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Saturday, May 23, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Hull's fate resting on team Man United fields


LONDON — Hull and Sunderland will stay up if they beat Manchester United and Chelsea, respectively.

Christopher Davies

Newcastle will stay up if it does better at Aston Villa than Hull does against United, or it wins and Sunderland loses or draws.

Sunderland will be relegated if it fails to win, and Hull and Newcastle both win, or if lose by eight goals and Hull draws.

Middlesbrough will stay up only if it wins at West Ham, Newcastle loses and Hull loses, with a turnaround of at least five goals.

* * * * *

AT AROUND 3:15 PM on Sunday, Sir Alex Ferguson will reveal the most eagerly awaited Manchester United team sheet of the season before the final Premier League game away to Hull City.

Victory for Hull will guarantee survival. For United, which clinched its third consecutive title last weekend, the game is academic. All United's focus will be on Wednesday's Champions League final against Barcelona.

It is Lionel Messi, not Bernard Mendy, who occupies Ferguson's thoughts.

The Reds' lineup at KC Stadium will bear little resemblance to the one that starts the final in Rome.

Why should it?

United will go to Hull and back without most of its superstars who will be rare armchair viewers as perhaps the most inexperienced team Ferguson has ever selected has a significant say in who stays up and who goes down.

Hull's relegation rivals accept Ferguson will do what is best for United and not them. It would be irresponsible for Ferguson to risk any key players against Hull, whatever advantage that may give to the Tigers.

There can be no whingeing.

Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, the three Northeast teams from the relegation region of England have 38 matches in which to secure their places in the Premier League. Relegation does not depend on one game (even if it seems that way), so if Hull beat United's reserves on Sunday it will stay up because of what it has done over the season.

Ferguson said: "I have to assess what is best for Manchester United, but also to be fair to other clubs. I have two very good sides I can select from my squad and the team I select on Sunday will reflect that."

Rio Ferdinand, sidelined for three weeks because of a calf injury, needs to play to prove his fitness for Rome.

"I am hoping he will be fit for Sunday," said Ferguson. "If not he is doubtful for the Champions League final. I think he needs a game going into the final."

Michael Carrick, banned from the final, will be the most experienced midfielder in the side, but Phil Brown, the Hull manager, will not be fooled by an unfamiliar United XI.

Brown knows Hull's best chance of success is against the "real" United, whose superstars, with one eye on Barcelona, would avoid crunching tackles or anything that might keep them out of the final.

On the other hand, players such as Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and Frederico Macheda will treat the game against Hull as a chance to win a place on the bench against Barcelona. And most United reserves would walk into Hull's first team.

Paul Duffen, the Hull chairman, said: "I understand the integrity of the competition is vital but United have one of the biggest games in their history coming up.

"Equally, let's not pretend United know how to put out a weak team."

However, old their players are they'll nearly all be international footballers.

"Who comes out of the other dressing room we're not sure, but they will be wearing Manchester United shirts and we know damn well they will be taking the chance to impress their gaffer."

Two years ago, a week before the F.A. Cup final, Ferguson fielded a mix-and-match side against West Ham, whose victory at Old Trafford helped to relegate Sheffield United.

Sunday's lineup will be far less experienced than the one of 2007, but in some ways perhaps stronger — beware of reserves with an agenda.

Hull and Sunderland have their fates in their own hands. In contrast, Newcastle must beat Aston Villa and hope for slip-ups elsewhere.

Relegation was never a realistic worry for Newcastle last August with Kevin Keegan, the messiah of St. James' Park, back at the helm. But in September, Keegan resigned, owner Mike Ashley brought in Joe Kinnear who had to hand the reins over to Chris Hughton after health problems . . . with Messiah II, Alan Shearer, brought in for the last eight games as a footballing Red Adair.

Shearer has too many overpaid, under-performing players at his disposal to turn losers into winners. A full-time job will be his if he wants it, but Shearer knows that whether Newcastle stays up or is relegated, the manager faces a battle to rebuild a team where offloading foreigners in the comfort zone of a mega-contract while attracting decent players will take time and money.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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