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Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping Manchester United's defensive performance at Stoke City can be a benchmark for the rest of the season.
Though United have yet to lose this term, their results have been characterised by a string of sloppy defensive errors which have seen the team concede 12 goals in nine Premier League games.
However, United have kept clean sheets in three of their past five matches and the return to fitness of Rio Ferdinand has given the side a more solid look.
Ferdinand, and captain Nemanja Vidic in particular, impressed during Sunday's 2-1 win at Stoke and Ferguson praised the form of his two experienced centre-halves.
"It doesn't matter when you come here, it is always a difficult time," said the United boss. "It is one of the hardest places to come in the league. They are such an enthusiastic and motivated team they make you play all the time.
"Both our central defenders will have sore heads. Rio and Nemanja were fantastic, really fantastic.
"You have to defend well because they get so many set-pieces and throw-ins. They got a lot of free-kicks and you have to defend them well.
"We did defend well and if we can defend like that for the rest of the season we will be back to a real solid determination to deal with all these things which will make some difference to us."
Another member of United's back four was lucky to stay on the pitch and Ferguson explained the bizarre substitution of Gary Neville.
Neville was fortunate not to be shown a second yellow card by referee Andre Marriner when he up-ended Matthew Etherington just before the break.
The former captain surprisingly reappeared with the rest of United's players at the break but was then instantly replaced by Wes Brown before the half could kick-off.
It was a strange way to celebrate Neville's 600th appearance for the club but Ferguson explained that he had wanted to give Brown the first five minutes of the second period to complete his warm-up.
He said: "The referee told Gary Neville one more foul and he was off I understand.
"I just wanted to get Wes Brown a warm-up but when I got back to the dugout Wes said he was ready to go on. I was going to wait but I thought Gary should get some applause from the fans - their fans!"
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Manchester United travel to Wigan and Manchester City entertain Stoke City, after West Brom and Fulham kick off the 2013 action.
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