DERBY // A relieved Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his side were lucky to escape with a 1-0 Carling Cup defeat at Derby on Wednesday. United slid to a shock reverse against the Championship outfit in the first leg of their semi-final. Kris Commons' 30th-minute screamer gives United a major job to complete at Old Trafford in a fortnight if they are to book a final appearance - almost certainly against Tottenham - at Wembley on March 1.
But, as far as Ferguson is concerned, at least United can still get there. "We could have lost by more," admitted Ferguson. "We were lucky. We were so bad that Derby will rue the fact they didn't score more. In any semi-final you hope to give yourself that breathing space. But we expect to recover a 1-0 deficit against anyone at Old Trafford and I am sure we will." United's first defeat in 15 matches was certainly better coming against Derby than Chelsea, who tackle United in a crucial Premier League encounter on Sunday.
And, as Ferguson acknowledged, Nigel Clough's presence may also have been a major influence even though the new Derby boss was only watching from the Pride Park stands. "It happens so many times historically, there is no rhyme or reason to it," he said. "A few years ago we played West Ham and Alan Curbishley had just taken over and they beat us 1-0. It is a strange thing." The interim Derby caretaker boss David Lowe insists they have set the standard for the rest of the season. The sit 18th in the Championship and he said: "The lads all deserve a pat on the back they will get. They have shown a high standard against a top team and they have to keep that up."
* PA Sport