Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has told winger Ashley Young to stop diving in an attempt to win penalties in the final stretch of the Premier League title race.
Second-place Manchester City is at struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday so United almost certainly needs victory over visiting Everton the same day to maintain its five-point lead at the top of the standings.
The matches are the last for the leading pair before they go head-to-head on April 30 and the margins are so fine that the eventual outcome of the title could hinge on as little as one goal.
But Ferguson has still warned Young and acknowledged that he crumpled too easily under a challenge against Aston Villa last week.
“I’m not sure Ashley tried to get the penalty kick but he certainly went down quickly,” Ferguson said. “I’ve had a word with Ashley and he understands where we’re coming from. Hopefully it makes a difference.”
Ferguson quickly pointed to where Young should look for advice on how to model his game.
“We have a player here who stays on his feet and he’s been doing that for 20 years,” Ferguson said. “How many penalty kicks has Ryan Giggs won for Manchester United? He’s won five in 20 years. That’s some record. Do you know why? Because his balance is so good and he never goes down. That’s the amazing thing about him.”
Young’s former Villa teammate,Nathan Delfounesco,publicly accused Young of lacking respect for diving and the danger for the United winger is that referees may become over cautious in turning down genuine appeals for kicks if he maintains his reputation.
“You get bad decisions and you get good decisions. It evens itself out,believe me,” Ferguson said. “It’s the same for everybody.”
Young and Giggs are both in the squad for Sunday’s game against Everton,which has not won in 19 trips to Old Trafford since the inaugural Premier League season in 1992-93.
Michael Owen has been training again with the first team after five months out injured but Ferguson said this weekend’s match is too soon for the former England striker.
“If there’s a player who can score an important goal at any stage of the match,it’s him,” Ferguson said. “When he gets an injury it’s never an easy one: it’s months rather than weeks. It’s unfortunate because he’s a fantastic striker.”
Everton left back Leighton Baines is out with a hamstring injury but midfielder Steven Pienaar can play after he was ineligible for last weekend’s FA Cup semifinal loss to Liverpool.
City is desperate for victory to keep up the pressure on United,which will win a 20th English title if it wins its next two matches. A victory for City would relegate Wolves but would prove difficult for City’s former Wolves defender,Joleon Lescott.
Lescott said Wolves manager Terry Connor was a hugely important figure for him.
“I owe a lot to everyone connected with Wolves,none more so than Terry Connor,” Lescott said. “When Terry first arrived,I was just coming out of the youth team and was just going into the reserves. He was the development coach at the time and I still believe he has been the single biggest influence on my career.
“Once the whistle goes on Sunday,of course,it’s all down to being professional.”
Also Sunday,Liverpool hosts West Bromwich Albion.
There are seven games Saturday: Arsenal vs Chelsea; Aston Villa vs Sunderland; Blackburn vs Norwich; Bolton vs Swansea; Fulham vs. Wigan; Newcastle vs. Stoke; and Queens Park Rangers vs Tottenham.