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Giggs fires warning shot

BIRMINGHAM, January 8 – Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs has delivered a warning to the rest of the Premier League about the dangers of writing off the champions.United’s stumbling form of late has offered genuine hope to those challenging them for honours this season that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side might be vulnerable to finishing the season empty handed.

Ferguson’s men are smarting from last weekend’s shock FA Cup third round defeat to League One leaders Leeds United at Elland Road.

Their form in the Premier League has also been inconsistent and Saturday’s trip to Birmingham appears to represent another potential banana skin considering the blistering form Alex McLeish’s side has been in.

For once a victory for United is far from guaranteed as Birmingham look to extend an 11-match unbeaten run in the league.

Giggs though is adamant United have what it takes to bounce back from last weekend’s setback and get their season back on an even keel.

The Welshman, 36, said: "It has always been the same here, one defeat and it is a disaster. That is never going to change.

"But we don’t get carried away with that, just the same as we wouldn’t get carried away if we had won 10 on the bounce.

"It is up to us to work hard and get back to winning ways. We are still in a strong position in the league and we are still in the Champions League.

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"The turn of the year is when we are notoriously at our best. We have a great team at the moment and I still believe there is more for me to win."

Ferguson will once again be without Rio Ferdinand due to his ongoing back problem, although goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is back in contention having returned to Manchester from Amsterdam, where his wife had been taken ill before New Year.

Ferguson is expected to make several changes, with Giggs, Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic all expected to be recalled to the starting line-up after missing the defeat by Lees.

Ferguson has also revealed that new signing Mame Biram Diouf is close to making his United debut.

Diouf, 22, joined United from Norwegian side Molde in the summer but has only just linked up with his new colleagues after Ferguson allowed him to remain on loan at his old club until the end of their domestic campaign.

The Senegal international has been granted international clearance and Ferguson said: "He has adapted very well to our training regime and has looked very impressive. He is quick, very good in the air and a good striker of the ball.

"Overall, he is a really good centre forward and he will play a part this season."

Birmingham, meanwhile, are closing in on making Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones their record signing.

McLeish’s bid to sign Jones in an 11-million-pound deal is said to be at an advanced stage and could be completed over the weekend.

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Birmingham are also close to signing playmaker Michel from Spanish side Sporting Gijon and confidence in the home camp couldn’t be higher, even if McLeish himself admits to still being slightly in awe of Ferguson, a manager he played under for Aberdeen and Scotland.

"The big one for all of us who have played for Sir Alex is to beat him – but you’re not allowed," McLeish said.

"I’ve never done it. We lost 1-0 at Ibrox in the Champions League when I was manager of Rangers and then got thumped 3-0 down the road.

"I’ve lost two games since I’ve been here at Birmingham – both 1-0 – so I’m getting closer. I do pick up the phone to him sometimes and I get phone-calls from him.

"We all like to think ‘I’m his best protege’ or ‘I’m his best pal’ but he’s got millions and they are not only players who’ve played for him.

"The amount of managers who phone him or are friendly with him is incredible and they revere him."

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