Man Utd boss Ferguson: Smudger will be a key player in the coming weeks

Ferguson said: “Alan did very well when he came on against Lille and I was pleased with him. Once we scored, he was always going to come on. He’ll be involved on Saturday, he’s certainly back in the frame.

“It’s been difficult for Alan. He’s had a terrible time. We thought he had a really good pre-season, but it didn’t show in the games he played against Crewe and Southend.

“He knows that himself, and we put him on a programme of speed work right through December.

“At that time we had arranged for Henrik Larsson to come, so Alan had to wait with all the other players available. Our form has been terrific in that time, but now Alan is asking questions about how I rotate the squad and who should play up front.”

United midfielder Michael Carrick said: “Smudger was brilliant when he came on and he almost scored with a volley. It’s great to have Al back, he’s going to be a great bonus to us in the run-in.”

Rio Ferdinand said: “He’s back fit and will be a great asset for us.”