Ferguson salutes "fantastic" Owen hat-trick
Sir Alex Ferguson hailed hat-trick hero Michael Owen following Manchester United's memorable 3-1 win over Wolfsburg in Germany.
Needing a point to secure top spot in Champions League Group B, United flattened their hosts even though they had 14 senior players missing. The result means Ferguson's men will avoid many of Europe's biggest names including Real Madrid, in the first knockout round as well as playing the second leg at home. And for that they have Owen to thank.
The former Liverpool frontman has not made quite the impression many people expected when he arrived from Newcastle in the summer. But the 29-year-old has now taken his tally to seven and Ferguson said: "It was a fantastic performance. Michael's finishing and positional play were superb.
"I made the point some weeks ago that his training performances have improved steadily. I have had no worries about him. Obviously in some games recently we have only played with one striker and Wayne Rooney has been it. Tonight we used a different system.
"The evidence of a player is always on the football field and Michael has given us that this evening. He has proved his worth and I am delighted with his performance.''
Owen hoped his performance would provide a timely reminder to some people - perhaps even England manager Fabio Capello - that he is not over the hill and on the decline as the perception in some quarters might be.
"I think a lot of people probably think I'm 35 already, but I've been saying lately 'I'm still in my 20s'," Owen told Sky Sports. "I've scored a few hat-tricks in my time but it's always nice to score them."
Ferguson could have added Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher to his Owen eulogy. Pressed into emergency service as defenders in a three-man rearguard that also included Patrice Evra, the pair stood firm in the face of severe Wolfsburg pressure.
"If Wolfsburg had gone in front it would have made it very difficult for us,'' said Ferguson. "In that instance I do not know whether we would have persisted with the system we used. I just felt it was the best way to try and keep them out because Wolfsburg are a good attacking team. I felt we would get chances on the counter-attack and thankfully that is what happened.''
Ferguson does expect strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney to be fit for Saturday's encounter with Aston Villa along with Ryan Giggs, the only member of the 14 to be rested. Crucially, Nemanja Vidic has recovered from the flu virus that kept him at home.
"Our defence will be Fletcher, Carrick, Vidic and Evra,'' confirmed Ferguson, his statement suggesting that Wes Brown will not have recovered from a hamstring injury as he had hoped.
Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh told his club's official website: "We played well again and created a lot of pressure, especially in the second half, but were unfortunately not rewarded. We created many chances but unfortunately Manchester then found the goals.
"I cannot blame the team. We presented ourselves well overall in the group stage and deserved to go forward. Unfortunately we have not got enough points.''
Germany defender Marcel Schafer added: "The disappointment is huge - in the dressing room it was dead silence. We played well against a very strong opponent. Unfortunately it was not enough.''