Sir Alex still a Berbatov fan

MANCHESTER - Sir Alex Ferguson has leapt to the defence of striker Dimitar Berbatov as Manchester United look to put their season back on track following their unexpected FA Cup exit.

MANCHESTER - Sir Alex Ferguson has leapt to the defence of striker Dimitar Berbatov as Manchester United look to put their season back on track following their unexpected FA Cup exit.

Berbatov has struggled to justify the £30million transfer fee United paid Tottenham for the Bulgaria international's services in September.

Ferguson's Premier League champions get a quick chance to return to winning ways when they entertain Portsmouth at Old Trafford today.

In the build-up to that match, the United manager has defended Berbatov from accusations he is not living up to his exorbitant transfer fee.

"He was disappointed to miss his penalty and he'll get criticism for that.

"We've got to move on.

"We've done it in the past and we'll do it again," said the veteran United manager, who fielded a largely second-string side against Everton.

He fully expects to see his side bounce back against Portsmouth and keep the pressure on title rivals Liverpool.

Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edwin van der Sar, who were all rested at the weekend, are set to return to the side.

"Trying to deal with the tiredness after Wembley, especially after extra time, was always going to be the issue," said Ferguson.

"But there is enough freshness in the rest of the squad to be alright on Wednesday, that's how we planned it."

Portsmouth, who have yet to secure their Premier League future, will be without Croatia international Niko Kranjcar after he was carried off on a stretcher during Saturday's 1-0 victory over Bolton.

Portsmouth, who dumped United out of the quarterfinal stage on their way to winning the FA Cup during their last visit to Old Trafford 13 months ago, head for Manchester knowing that 17 of their players are out of contract at the end of the season.

Nigeria striker Nwankwo Kanu is one of those who does not know if they will be at Fratton Park next season. Sol Campbell, Hermann Hreidarsson, Sean Davis and Jermaine Pennant are also out of contract.

Others include Lauren, Djimi Traore, Noe Pamarot and Armand Traore.

"At the moment, we are just concentrating on staying in this division," said manager Paul Hart, whose side are six points above the relegation zone with six games to play.

"Contracts will be discussed at the appropriate time, but it's not right now," the Portsmouth boss explained. - Sapa-AFP

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