BURNLEY, January 15 – Darren Fletcher believes Manchester United will be inspired by the heavy criticism they have faced this season.
United are one point behind Chelsea, having played a game more than the Premier League leaders, going into Saturday’s game with Burnley at Old Trafford.
They have already lost five games in the league — including their away fixture at Burnley in August — as well as being knocked out of the FA Cup third round by League One Leeds.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been hit hard by defensive injuries and has been without most of his first-choice back four for most of the campaign.
Rio Ferdinand and John O’Shea have been absent for a couple of months, while Nemanja Vidic has only recently returned to fitness after a spell on the sidelines and Jonny Evans, Rafael and Gary Neville have been absent.
Fletcher thinks that has been key to the problems but still feels that United have the quality to put together a strong run of form that can take them to a fourth straight league title.
The Scotland midfielder said: "It hasn’t been the easiest of times. There has been a lot of disruption.
"The injuries in defence have seen players playing all over the place, myself included. It is difficult to get a run of form when things like that happen.
"We’ve not had a settled squad. It has been an injury-disrupted season. We are still in touch though and that is all we could ask for.
"We need to get everyone fit and for the manager to be able to choose a settled team. We need everyone fit and fighting towards the end of the season. That is the most important thing, then we can kick on.
"Nothing has developed into a real run yet. But there is a run in this team. We have been written off all season. We need to use all that as a fuel."
Fletcher insists that the club’s young players simply have to get used to the heavy criticism that has marked the first half of their campaign.
He feels the leadership of United’s old heads, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes is vital to keeping the spirit of the squad in tact.
He added: "Everyone wants to shoot you down when you are successful and you have to have the character to take that on board and fight back. That is the challenge.
"You learn from it and it is what being part of this club is all about. You get used to and respond to it."
"When you are young and naive it can affect you. But I had very experienced players around me when I first broke through who pointed out the reality of it.
"The older ones have passed it down. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville told me not to worry about it because they’d experienced it and you get through it."
Fletcher misses the game with the Clarets through suspension as Brian Laws takes charge of Burnley for the first time.
The former Sheffield Wednesday manager was the surprise replacement for Owen Coyle and has signed a two-and-a-half year deal at Turf Moor.
Burnley are 14th in the table but have not won in the Premier League since October.
Laws said: "Owen Coyle’s done a fantastic job — no question about that. He’s done a terrific job to get Burnley into the Premier League.
"But at this moment in time he has dropped the baton and we want to pick it up with the supporters and drive on over the finishing line, which means we will have stayed in the Premier League.
"That is our drive and ambition and I will do everything in my power to achieve that because this great club is where it should be."