x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Chris Smalling leaps to Manchester United's defence

Centre-half ready for the challenge from Bolton Wanderers.

MANCHESTER // Chris Smalling insists Manchester United's depleted defence are ready to sustain their title challenge against Bolton today.

The league leaders are likely to be without five defenders and will be unable to field a specialist right-back when Owen Coyle's side visit Old Trafford.

The alliance of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic has been vital at the heart of the United defence, but both are sidelined by calf injuries, while both John O'Shea and Rafael da Silva went off injured in Tuesday's Champions League win over Marseille.

Unless Jonny Evans is fit enough to return, Sir Alex Ferguson will be forced to name the same quartet who finished the victory against the French champions.

Vidic, in particular, is well-equipped to halt Bolton's captain Kevin Davies, but Smalling is confident he can deal with the target man. "Bolton will obviously be a physical challenge," he said. "But we played against Stoke earlier in the season and I got to play against Kenwyne (Jones) so if they want to kick the ball up in the air then I will challenge all day long. Bring it on.

"Nemanja is a massive focal point of our defence and being the captain as well, he's a massive loss. We are down to the bare bones now in the defensive department but whoever has stepped in has done a great job."

Brown's form has been questioned and Smalling, a 21-year-old in his debut campaign at Old Trafford, has emerged as a pivotal figure, especially with Ferdinand unlikely to play again this season.

"It's a massive test but I'm enjoying it and hopefully I can keep things going because I don't want the season to end at the moment," Smalling added. "You want to be given that chance and hopefully I've shown the fans already that I can be a real player here."