Ferguson: The FA will flip if it is a replay
United boss insists authorities will want loaded Cup tie to be settled at first time of asking
Alex Ferguson has admitted the English Football Association might be hoping Manchester United's powderkeg FA Cup fourth-round tie with Liverpool today is settled at the first attempt.
A massive security operation has been put in place for the Anfield encounter, which will be the first time the north-west rivals have met since Patrice Evra made his racism allegations against Luis Suarez.
Although Liverpool's immediate reactions in the wake of the guilty verdict that led to Suarez being banned for eight matches left United distinctly unimpressed, the Merseyside giants have now switched their stance completely and warned supporters any racist abuse will not be tolerated.
Ferguson has followed that up by pleading with supporters and players to ensure the occasion is remembered only for the quality of the football.
However, the United boss accepts the prospect of an Old Trafford replay, which would take place just days before the two sides are due to meet in the Premier League, and for which Suarez would be available, is probably not too appealing for the game's authorities.
"It could be a replay," he said. "That would get the FA going."
The long history of animosity between the supporters even extended to an FA Youth Cup tie at Anfield last season and, with more than 5,000 fans in attendance, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a section of United's travelling contingent will look to inflame the situation.
Ferguson has stayed clear of the entire row since his initial confirmation that United would back Evra in whatever action he chose to take.
However, the Scot feels now is the time to try and ensure all the talk is about the game, rather than the obvious issues surrounding it. "It is a massive game for both clubs," he said.
"There is a tremendous profile on it and there will be interest throughout the country.
"As Steven Gerrard said (on Thursday), there is a responsibility on the players to behave properly. That is what I expect my players to do. Both sets of fans have to make sure we are talking about the game and nothing else."
And Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is keen for the "sideshow" which has developed around the fringes of today's game to remain in the background.
"We want to concentrate on going out and playing football and any other sideshow is purely that, it is just a sideshow," Dalglish said.
"Everyone has a responsibility to uphold the names of their respective club and anyone who reports or comments on the game also has the responsibility to make sure they are not trying to incite trouble.
"But it is not only the fans who have to behave themselves; we have a responsibility to behave -- but that is the case every time.
"I am sure everyone will be determined to make sure what's done has been done and whatever your grievance is keep it to yourself and let's get on with the game."
Getting supporters to respond may not be easy after some of the distasteful chants of recent years, when the victims of both the Munich and Hillsborough tragedies have been mocked.
Much of that resentment stems from the traditional status of United and Liverpool as the top two teams in the country, with Ferguson claiming it remains his side's biggest game of the season, even though Manchester City are catching up fast.
"You cannot dismiss the progress City are making completely but at the moment the Liverpool game is still the one," he said.
"The atmosphere at Anfield is terrific. You can work all your life to a point where you are challenged.
"Our results at Liverpool in the last two or three years have not been great but both clubs will always have their moments, but it is such a great rivalry."
Ferguson flatly refused to speak directly about Evra, or whether he would play. And if there was an attempt at mind games, it came through his refusal to offer any injury updates, meaning Dalglish cannot know for certain whether Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand and Nani, whom it has been suggested could be out for a couple of months with the foot injury he picked up at Arsenal, will be involved or not.