BUT for the persuasive powers of Sir Alex Ferguson, Danny Higginbotham could have been preparing to confront former team mate Paul Scholes tomorrow afternoon, writes James Shield.
Scholes, who spent three years working with the Sheffield United defender at Old Trafford, planned to finish his career with hometown club Oldham Athletic before the wily old Scot convinced him to remain a red instead.
Higginbotham harbours a similar ambition. The subject of his affections, however, resides 20 miles away along the A560.
“I’m from Altrincham and, when I’m too old to be playing professionally, I want to see out my career with them,” Higginbotham told The Star earlier this week. “I used to go and watch them with my mates and I’ve got a framed shirt on my wall at home. Lots of autographs too.
“Players like Nick Daws, Jeff Wealands, Ken McKenna and Paul Showler were legends. We used to idolise them from the terraces. Altrincham might not be the most glamorous side in the world but they were the team I grew up supporting so pull on their shirt at some stage would be great.”
First though Higginbotham has unfinished business to attend in League One where, having joined Danny Wilson’s side during January’s transfer window, he has established himself as a permanent fixture in United’s defence.
The visitors will cross the Pennines second in the table having drawn with Leyton Orient in midweek and, according to the 34-year-old, perfectly equipped to secure promotion due to the blend of youth and experience within their ranks.
“I’ve hopefully got plenty of years left in me yet and, like the rest of the lads, I’m desperate to get us up.
“I’ve been fortunate to play for some great teams during my time in the game and, make no mistake, this is a massive club that should be in the Championship at the very least.
“Personally, I think we’re set up well because we’ve got some older heads who can steady the ship and also some really good younger players who give us the legs, keep the rest of us fresh and do our running.
“It’s a good mix. I know a lot is made of having experience and, don’t get me wrong, in a situation like this it’s vital.
“But you’ve also got to have something else too. You’ve got to have talent at the other end of the spectrum to give you that ’edge’ and we’re very fortunate in that regard.”
With only four points separating the division’s leading seven teams, United’s margin for error remains uncomfortably slim despite winning four of their previous five matches and keeping four clean sheets.
Higginbotham, previously of Manchester United, Derby County, Southampton and Stoke, said: “There’s always pressure when you are at a big club like this but it’s a positive pressure.
“When you are in this situation you’ve got to view it as an opportunity and we’re working hard to take it.
“One of the things that impressed me as soon as I came here was the spirit behind the scenes. You can see that when you’ve attackers like Dave Kitson so willing to defend from the front.”
Speaking ahead of the meeting with Athletic, now 20th after winning their last three outings , Higginbotham added: “The gaffer has been brilliant because he takes that pressure off us and turns it in to something good.
“That’s the sign of a good manager in my book. He tells us just to go out there and play. To express ourselves and enjoy it.”