23/02/2012 23:00, Report by Mark Froggatt
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Boss: Changes almost cost us

Sir Alex Ferguson was pleased to see United reach the Europa League last 16 but admitted his decision to rotate his squad against Ajax on Thursday night almost backfired.

The boss made four changes to the team that secured a 2-0 first-leg lead in Amsterdam and favoured youth over experience, with one eye, perhaps, on the weekend trip to Norwich.

It was a decision that initially looked to have paid off as Javier Hernandez’s early goal tightened United's grip on the tie. Ajax soon rallied, though, and eventually levelled through Aras Ozbiliz before Toby Alderweireld's late header sealed a 2-1 win for the Dutch champions.

“It was very nervy at the end of the game,” Sir Alex told MUTV. “We didn’t play well in the second half and they were by far the better team. I accept responsibility myself because I picked a team with too many youngsters in the back four positions. They all have great potential but on European nights you need experience in the back positions and it just made it a nervy night for us.

“You play Ajax and know that they can keep the ball all night. The problem is that they don’t really have a great deal of penetration. But they’re all good young footballers, they are a growing team.

“They are much like ourselves, which is why I thought playing young players would help us as it would give them experience. Of course, I had to play some who needed a game badly. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley have all been out for a long time so it was important to get them a game.”

Attention now turns to the last 16 and an eye-catching encounter with Athletic Bilbao, who United have not met in competitive football since the days of the Busby Babes and the 1957 European Cup quarter-final.

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