Fergie wary of QPR

Ajax feel­ing good, but Ar­rows will be a ma­jor chal­lenge ...but Man United can go top if they beat Rangers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REIN­ERS Week­end PSL fix­tures

THERE’S a flush of pos­i­tive vibes em­a­nat­ing from Ajax Cape Town at the mo­ment.

Af­ter a run of in­con­sis­tent re­sults and far from con­vinc­ing per­for­mances, the club – and coach Maarten Steke­len­burg – be­lieves that things are chang­ing.

They are play­ing with the con­trol and dom­i­nance they are ac­cus­tomed to and, if they win their two re­main­ing fix­tures of the year, they could well end the sea­son in a lofty po­si­tion on the PSL log.

Ajax are in Dur­ban to face Golden Ar­rows tonight (kick­off 8.15pm) and then, on Wed­nes­day, they host Black Leop­ards at the Cape Town Sta­dium.

Tonight, Steke­len­burg is adamant that his team con­tin­ues the form they showed in their last match – a com­fort­able 2- 0 win over Bloem­fontein Celtic.

“It was a good re­sult,” he said. “We played well, con­trolled the game and, when the op­po­nents had the ball, we were still able to con­trol things and keep them at bay. In this re­gard, Matthew Booth’s ex­pe­ri­ence has been cru­cial in set­tling things at the back. We now look a lot more solid and the play­ers are start­ing to play the way we want them to.”

The prob­lem for Steke­len­burg tonight, how­ever, is that his team is fac­ing Ar­rows, who are coached by former Ajax men­tor Muhsin Er­tu­gral.

Er­tu­gral was re­spon­si­ble for the groom­ing of many of the cur­rent Ajax play­ers. He knows their strengths and weak­nesses, and he is acutely aware of the Cape club’s style of play.

For ex­am­ple, when Er­tu­gral brought Ar­rows down to the Mother City to play Ajax in a Telkom Knock­out Cup quar­ter­fi­nal last month, the Dur­ban side ran out 2-1 win­ners.

In ad­di­tion to Er­tu­gral, Ar­rows also have an­other ex- Ajax con­nec­tion in mid­fielder Dil­lon Shep­pard.

Shep­pard, now 32, spent many years at Ajax and is as sussed about his former club. As one of the se­nior play­ers at Ar­rows, he will pass on this knowl­edge to the rest of the squad. Shep­pard cer­tainly be­lieves that Ar­rows are on the up, es­pe­cially un­der a wily, ex­pe­ri­enced coach like Er­tu­gral.

“There are a lot of good young­sters at Ar­rows,” Shep­pard told the PSL’S web­site. “But there are older play­ers who also con­trib­ute. It’s this mix of youth and ex­pe­ri­ence of the squad as a whole that gives it qual­ity and a great bal­ance. I think that’s been the key.

“We’ve been get­ting bet­ter each week un­der Muhsin Er­tu­gral. The coach seems to be im­ple­ment­ing a lot of things that the guys are now start­ing to get right. We’re get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter at things, the im­prove­ment has been there, and that has been ev­i­dent in our per­for­mances.” MANCH­ESTER UNITED could briefly for­get about in­jury prob­lems, Cham­pi­ons League elim­i­na­tion and their resur­gent neigh­bours to­mor­row.

If Manch­ester City lose to an Arse­nal side that al­ready won 5-3 at Chelsea this sea­son, United could over­haul their ri­vals and go to the top of the League for the first time since Oc­to­ber 14 with vic­tory at Queens Park Rangers.

But QPR have lost only twice at Lof­tus Road this sea­son, with Chelsea, New­cas­tle and As­ton Villa among the sides that failed to win there.

“We have a good record there and I hope we can con­tinue that,” United man­ager Sir Alex Ferguson said.

“They’ve done well and given them­selves a chance of stay­ing in the league by in­vest­ing and bring­ing in a few play­ers. It’s go­ing to be a hard game.”

United have not lost in seven trips to QPR since May 1989, but their last visit was in March 1996, just be­fore QPR’S 15-year ab­sence from the top flight be­gan with a de­mor­al­is­ing rel­e­ga­tion.

Ferguson will again be with­out cap­tain Ne­manja Vidic, striker Javier Her­nan­dez and mid­field duo An­der­son and Tom Clev­erly – along with ill mid­fielder Dar­ren Fletcher – but has striker Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov back from an an­kle prob­lem. Rafael Da Silva and Dar­ron Gib­son could also be avail­able.

QPR man­ager Neil Warnock guided his new­lypro­moted side to a 1-0 win over Chelsea in Oc­to­ber and saw his team go ahead against Manch­ester City last month be­fore los­ing 3-2.

“Queens Park Rangers have in­vested the right way,” Ferguson said. “Neil Warnock re­alised that when you get into the League you need big play- ers. That gives them a bet­ter chance be­cause it’s an un­remit­ting league in terms of the de­mands.

“Strangely, Nor­wich, Swansea and QPR have done well and adapted to the de­mands of the league. The real test, though, is in the sec­ond half of the sea­son.”

But QPR will be with­out key de­fender An­ton Fer­di­nand be­cause of a ham­string prob­lem.

Man City host Arse­nal to­mor­row with al­most as much at­ten­tion fo­cused on striker Mario Balotelli as on his team’s chances of win­ning.

Balotelli was again pic­tured fight­ing with a team­mate this week, with Micah Richards the lat­est player to square up to the tem­per­a­men­tal Italy in­ter­na­tional.

“He said it was be­cause he didn’t pass the ball to him,” City man­ager Roberto Mancini said. “It was a re­ally stupid thing. It was noth­ing. Af­ter 10 min­utes it was fin­ished.

“I was al­ways in­volved in prob­lems on the train­ing ground, it hap­pens.”

Arse­nal are on a run of seven wins from eight League matches and have won four of their last five away matches in all com­pe­ti­tions.

But the Gun­ners are still with­out Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wil­shere, An­dre San­tos, Carl Jenk­in­son, Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabi­an­ski, Vito Man- none, Abou Di­aby and Ryo Miyaichi.

Also to­mor­row, fourth­place Tot­ten­ham host Sun­der­land and Liver­pool go to As­ton Villa.

To­day Chelsea will have David Luiz avail­able for their trip to Wi­gan af­ter the de­fender was sus­pended for Mon­day’s win over City – the leader’s first league de­feat this sea­son – for pick­ing up a fifth yel­low card of the cam­paign. – Sapa-ap


STRIKER ON CALL: United man­ager Sir Alex Ferguson will call on Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov for to­day’s match against QPR.

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