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Sir Alex admits: I wanted to use obscure FA rule in order to avoid a replay
• Rare law could have seen extra-time played against Spurs
• Ferguson desperate not to add congestion to United's fixture list

Sir Alex Ferguson has failed with a contentious and unprecedented scheme to guarantee Manchester United's FA Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur does not go to a replay. Ferguson had tried to exploit a little-known law in the competition guidelines to make sure the game would be settled in one match, despite acknowledging that it would open the club to allegations of "not adhering to the principles of the FA Cup or the spirit of it".

Ferguson was so desperate to avoid adding another game to United's fixture list he had tried to instigate talks with Tottenham about taking advantage of the Football Association's Rule 11a, which stipulates that a game can go into extra-time rather than replays providing the clubs agree in advance.

The rule was introduced more than 50 years ago to spare amateur clubs the travelling and administrative costs from playing replays in the preliminary rounds. No professional club has ever applied it but Ferguson was alerted by a newspaper column written by the former referee *Graham Poll. Despite admitting it would be widely construed as denigrating the competition, the United manager immediately instructed his chief executive, David Gill, to approach Tottenham's chairman, Daniel Levy.

Those talks never materialised once Gill ascertained from the FA that the application had to be made within a week of the draw, but that information had not reached Ferguson yesterday.

"Someone has informed me I could apply to the FA to have extra-time," he said. "It's an interesting one. I've never heard of this in my life. But it's always been there [in the rules]. It's in the *articles of the association that both teams can apply to have the game decided [in one game] and notify the referee before the game."

United were widely criticised for *pulling out of the FA Cup in 1999 to take part in the World Club Cup in Brazil, and Ferguson said he was aware the club would be accused of undermining the competition's traditions again, albeit on a smaller scale.

"The criticism would be that we're not adhering to the principles of the FA Cup or the spirit of it – but why have the FA got it [the rule] in there? It is their problem. It's their fault, really. We will investigate it."

Ferguson had intended to make a personal request to Harry Redknapp on the basis that Tottenham, like United, are in the midst of a fixture pile-up because of their involvement in four competitions. Redknapp has openly admitted he will play his "weakest team" at Old Trafford with Tuesday's league game against Stoke City in mind, but he made it clear he would have rejected Ferguson's approach. "I wouldn't try to change the traditions of the FA Cup," he said.

Although Ferguson has been unable to implement the rule on this occasion, yesterday's events make it highly likely that more clubs will explore the possibilities of trying to avoid replays. The irony is that United will find it particularly difficult to persuade opponents to agree. Tottenham, for example, would bank £160,000 from a televised replay, and would also have the revenue of an almost guaranteed sell-out crowd. As Ferguson acknowledged: "If you take a small club like Southend and they came up here and got a draw, you would be denying them the chance to make money in the replay."

His argument about game, however, is that the demands of the fixture list have contributed to him losing up to a dozen players through injury. His defence is particularly affected, with *Darren Fletcher lined up as an emergency right-back in case Gary Neville is unavailable. Fabio da Silva could make his debut at left-back.

"There have been nothing but games in January for us," Ferguson complained. "We talk about why managers for years and years have wanted a winter break and that's the very reason why you'd love to have one – to get rid of all the strains they [the players] carry right through December and January. But it's not to be, and the result is that the strains become injuries and the players miss games. That's the position we are in."

An FA spokesman said last night: "Replays are a significant part in the fabric and tradition of the FA Cup."
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