Tue, Dec 23, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Ferdinand still in the mix

WELCOME DISTRACTION The world's most expensive defender, who will start an eight-month ban next month, helped Manchester United to the top of the league table


Manchester United's John O'Shea, left, celebrates scoring with Rio Ferdinand, right, against Tottenham Hotspur in their English Premiership soccer match at London's White Hart Lane stadium on Sunday.


Rio Ferdinand shrugged off his looming eight-month ban and helped Manchester United go top of the Premier League on Sunday after a 2-1 victory at Tottenham.

The world's most expensive defender took his place on the Reds lineup at White Hart Lane two days after a Football Association disciplinary panel handed out the ban for failing to appear for a random drug test Sept. 23.

The ban doesn't start until Jan. 12 and United plans to appeal it. Ferdinand left the field blowing kisses and waving to the Reds fans who had chanted his name several times during the game.

"I'm very pleased," said United manager Alex Ferguson. "I think it was probably the best thing to play him, getting all the things out of his mind and concentrating on playing again. I think he's acquitted himself very well in the circumstances.

"The boy merits a position in the team because of his performance. Strangely enough, since it's all happened, he's been better and better."

Goals by John O'Shea and Ruud van Nistelrooy put the Reds in control before Gustavo Poyet replied for Spurs. The result means United is the first team to reach 40 points, with Arsenal and Chelsea tied for second on 39.

The Reds went ahead in the 15th minute when O'Shea met a corner from Darren Fletcher, sticking out a right leg to deflect the ball into the top corner past Kasey Keller.

In a meeting of two American goalkeepers, Tim Howard dived low to his left to make a stunning one-handed stop to keep out a powerful right foot shot from Poyet.

But it was 2-0 in the 26th minute when Van Nistelrooy took a first time pass from Ryan Giggs to run clear of the defense and fired home, the ball taking a deflection off the tackling Anthony Gardner. It was the Dutch striker's 33rd goal in 32 games for United.

English Premiership


1.Manchester Utd 40 2.Arsenal 39

3.Chelsea 39

4.Southampton 26

5.Fulham 25

Bottom of the table

18.Portsmouth 16

19.Leeds 15

20.Wolves 11

Source: AP

Van Nistelrooy fired across the face of the Spurs goal after a slick, end-to-end Reds move from inside their own area.

Then Spurs halved the Reds' lead in the 63rd minute when Paul Konchesky crossed from the left, Stephane Dalmat turned the ball into the middle and Poyet just beat Ferdinand to prod it goalwards. Howard did well to push the ball onto his right hand post but it bounced back into the net.

Earlier Sunday, Southampton jumped into fourth place with a 3-0 beating of Portsmouth to leave its south coast neighbor in relegation trouble.

Goals by Jason Dodd, Marian Pahars and James Beattie gave Saints a lopsided victory at St. Mary's and improved their poor goals ratio. Before the game, Gordon Strachan's team had scored only 15 in 16 matches.

The loss means that Harry Redknapp's men, promoted last season, remain in the relegation zone only a month after being in the top four early in the season.

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