Ferguson: Brown best in England

MANCHESTER - England international Wes Brown is the best defender in the country and still improving, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said on Friday.

The 30-year-old's flourishing partnership with Nemanja Vidic at the heart of United's defence has been a silver lining among a list of injuries to Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea and Jonny Evans this season.

"Vidic and Brown have been fantastic in recent games. It just reminds me that when Wes Brown is fit he's the best natural defender in the country," Ferguson told reporters ahead of Saturday's Premier League trip to struggling Portsmouth.

"I think most people recognise how good Wes is as a natural defender. You have got to pay tribute to the lad," he added.

Signed as a trainee in July 1996, Brown's United career has suffered countless injury interruptions since making his debut against Leeds United in 1998.

"He's kept coming back from the injuries he's had in his career. He's had two cruciates and a broken ankle and other injuries," the Scot said.

"Last season he had a very stagnant season in terms of interruptions to his consistency, but the previous season he was our most consistent defender.

"Now he's fit again and looking fantastic, he gets better all the time."

Brown, who also plays at right back, has been capped 22 times by England and is likely to be part of Fabio Capello's World Cup squad for the finals in South Africa next year.

"I keep thinking he's only 22 or 23, he's got such a young approach to life. He's done well dealing with all the things he's had to deal with and still comes out fighting," Ferguson said.

Second-placed United travel to Fratton Park on Saturday looking to return to winning ways after Wednesday's 1-0 Champions League defeat at home to Besiktas.

Victory for Ferguson's men would cut Chelsea's lead to two points for a day at least, with Carlo Ancelotti's men playing at London rivals Arsenal on Sunday.