Ferguson heaps praise upon improved Evans

Sir Alex Ferguson has labelled Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans as "arguably the best defender in the country," as Manchester United march towards their 20th league crown.

Heading the title race with a five-point cushion with just four games to go, the Red Devils supremo has given praise to a player who had admitted at the beginning of the season that he felt this campaign could be his last in a United jersey.

Struggling to break the formidable partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the arrival of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones suggested that Evans would slip even further down the pecking order.

However, one man's loss is another man's gain.

After Vidic's season was curtailed after rupturing his cruciate knee ligament in Basel, Ferguson put his faith in the Belfast-born defender and he has not been let down.

Speaking to United Review in his programme notes ahead of the 4-0 victory over Aston Villa game, Ferguson said:

"He [Vidic] and Rio Ferdinand had become the cornerstone of our defence, but Rio responded brilliantly, despite his back problem, and has now struck up a fine relationship with Jonny Evans."

Evans, who has had loan spells with Royal Antwerp and Sunderland, has benefited from playing beside Ferdinand, who has managed 25 starts in the league this season.

The last time the former England captain featured in so many was in the 2007/08 season.

Ferguson paid tribute to the effect of Ferdinand in the rise of his young centre-back, stating: "There is no doubt that he has been helped playing alongside the experience of Rio and he is now arguably the best defender in the country."

Their partnership has contributed to a defense, which has amassed 11 clean sheets in 20 Premier League games since the loss of the Serbian.

Hailing the partnership and of the back four as a whole, the Manchester United manager added: "Together they have been rock solid to give us great consistency in defence with Patrice Evra, our captain these days, always a livewire at left-back and with young Rafael maturing rapidly on the other flank."

Less than a year since the summer where he admitted he believed that one more poor campaign could see him being shown the door by Ferguson, Evans appears to be finally repaying the faith invested in him by a club that he has been associated with since the age of nine.

By James Savundra