STRUGGLING Championship club Preston North End learnt a harsh lesson this week – don’t mess with the football institution that is the Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson is one of the most revered men in the game, a manager with an almost unmatched honours list and a tough, powerful Scot with a demeanour that at times can be fearsome.

He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and can be an awesome proposition for anybody who has crossed him as several high-profile Manchester United players have found out in the past.  Ferguson is also fiercely loyal and it would appear a devout family man so when Preston sacked his son Darren Ferguson from his manager’s role at Deepdale last Wednesday, Ferguson senior’s response was swift.  Within hours he had recalled United players Ritchie de Laet and Josh King before their loan spells at Preston were due to end. And that wasn’t the end of it.  Stoke City manager Tony Pulis, reported to be a close friend of Sir Alex, then recalled midfielders Michael Tongue and Danny Pugh early from their loans.

Preston caretaker boss David Unsworth’s preparations for Saturday’s home game against Derby County could not have been helped by the removal of four players at such short notice.  So it wasn’t surprising that Preston lost the game 2-1 to leave them  three points adrift at the bottom of the table.  Being short of players was also a major headache for Scottish First Division side Stirling Albion ahead of Sunday’s game against Falkirk.  After having nine first-team players struck down with flu they launched a nationwide appeal for free agents and recently retired players to play one game for them, Albion director Paul Goodwin told BBC Scotland: “We only have six outfield players and two goalkeepers.”  Albion tried to have the game postponed but Goodwin revealed: “We have been told to put a game on to protect the integrity of the league. We are very frustrated and disappointed. We haven’t been told why our appeal has been rejected.  We’ve got medical certificates for 11 players, which is more than half of our playing pool.  So over 50 per cent of our workforce has been told it can’t turn up for work yet we have to put a show on.”

Goodwin said the club had to consider the options opened to them.  “The first is to take some players from our under-19s. They have not played for eight weeks and the manager doesn’t feel there are many he would want to expose to playing against a former Premier League club.  We can also get some trialists in. We’ve had a few we’ve been looking at, waiting on the transfer window opening up.  And maybe there are players who have been freed from other clubs who are waiting on the transfer window opening, who we could maybe sign on a week’s contract. That’s the way that we are going to put a team together on the park.”

On the day, Stirling did manage to put a side out but lost 4-2 and their team was described on the club’s official website as: “A depleted side which included four players who played against doctor’s orders, four players from our under 19 squad, a player signed on a short term deal and two trialists.”