Ferguson focused on league

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

First published in Sport © by

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted Manchester United have had a disappointing year in Europe after his side crashed out of the Europa League to Athletic Bilbao.

Only Wayne Rooney's late consolation prevented United suffering the worst two-legged European defeat in Ferguson's entire time as manager. The Red Devils won just three of their 10 games in UEFA competition and suffered a hat-trick of losses for the first time since 2004.

"Trying to analyse this season against others is a bit difficult. There is a route in terms of some of the goals we have lost in these tournaments. They have been pretty poor. It has been a disappointing year," said Ferguson.

However, having assumed the Premier League leadership last weekend and knowing they will open the gap on nearest challengers Manchester City to four points if they win at Wolves on Sunday, Ferguson realises this is no time to get too downhearted.

"Feeling sorry for myself is not an issue for me," he said. "There is a disappointment but analysing the performances is more important and we have an important game on Sunday."

Ferguson confirmed his decision to replace Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs in the second half was purely to keep them fresh for the trip to Molineux.

The Scot had long since abandoned any hope of reaching the quarter-finals as, trailing 3-2 from the first leg, United fell further behind thanks to Fernando Llorente's excellent volley before Oscar de Marcos doubled their lead in the second half. Rooney's 27th goal of the season 10 minutes from time came far too late to have any effect on the overall outcome.

"I don't think we can complain at the result," Ferguson said. "In the second half in particular, Bilbao were the better team. Their first goal was a bad one for us to lose. You can't believe an English team would lose a goal like that to a long ball. Ours was too late to do anything about it.

"Athletic could do very well. What we have seen, tonight and last Thursday, is a team whose workrate is higher than anyone I have seen in Europe. That takes you a long way but it is not just about their workrate. They have some fantastic qualities also.

"I would like to wish them well. I hope they do win it because it is a testament to the hard work they all put in, from their coach right through. They have created a cause. Such energy and determination to win football matches is an incredible thing to see. They deserve to win it."

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