sport

SAF hopeful pitch will recover

Sir Alex Ferguson hopes a change in the weather and an easing match schedule will lead to an improvement in the state of the Old Traffrd pitch.

Ever since Ferguson revealed the pitch had "collapsed" over Christmas, there have been huge concerns over the playing surface.

It was particularly bad during Wednesday's win over Southampton, when Ferguson admitted it was "a worry", and the United boss has confirmed the pitch will be replaced in the summer.

In the meantime, with decent gap between Southampton's visit and the arrival of Everton on February 10, and another nine-day gap after that until Reading arrive for an FA Cup fifth-round tie, Ferguson has been left to hope the usually dire Manchester weather takes a turn for the better.

"We have to hope for better weather and a bit more sun," said Ferguson.

"We've got artificial lights on it all the time which really helps but the more light we get the better it is for the pitch.

"We're changing the whole pitch in the summer but at the moment it's not good."

After enduring a period when they were forced to change the pitch virtually every season, United have gone nine years without ripping it up.

Groundsman Tony Sinclair has in the past been voted United's employee of the year, so successful has he been in sorting out the huge problems inherent in cultivating a suitable playing surface in a stadium that gets very little natural light due to its size.

Now, though, it has reached the point of no return, which considering the number of matches still to be played on it, including a Champions League clash with Real Madrid on March 5, may prove to be a handicap.

"It's definitely a bit worn out," said Ferguson. "The groundsmen work their socks off and Tony Sinclair is as concerned as anyone.

"We've declined to replace the turf because we believe Tony will get it right.

"But there's no question it's still recovering from those two games over Christmas.

"That killed us and it's never been the same since."