Football: Schmeichel inspired by past failure

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The Independent Online

Peter Schmeichel, who defied Newcastle with a string of saves in Monday's enthralling match, still bears the scars of Manchester United's last-kick failure against Blackburn a year ago.

The memory has spurred him, and the rest of Alex Ferguson's team, to rescue what looked to be a lost cause at Christmas when they trailed Newcastle by 10 points.

Six successive League wins, crowned by Eric Cantona's goal which shattered Newcastle's aura of invincibility at St James' Park, have trimmed that lead to a bare, precarious point.

"Now we can only lose it," Schmeichel said. "We still need help from one or two teams but when you look at Newcastle's run-in I am sure we will get it. And that leaves it up to us.

"We've been in this situation before. Twice we've come out winners, twice we've been losers in the last four seasons. Most of this team experienced losing it on the last day and I can tell you it's not a nice feeling. It is horrible and makes you determined that it's never going to happen to you again.

"Newcastle have not really been in the situation when you reach March and April and the title is being decided, when you are running out of games and you have to keep pulling out the results. We've been there, we know exactly what it's like and that's our great advantage over Newcastle now. We are really fired up for it."

United's schedule is much the easier, mainly matches against relegation fodder, while Kevin Keegan must take a Newcastle team now gnawed by self- doubt to Anfield, Highbury, Ewood Park and Elland Road.

If Newcastle go the way of Malcolm Allison's 1972 Manchester City side - five points clear in mid-March and losers to Derby by a solitary point come May - the title may not end up in Manchester.

Schmeichel, in fact, considers Liverpool, five points adrift with a game in hand, to be the main threat. "They are playing extremely well. They are very much in it and we've both rammed home the message to Newcastle that titles don't come easy," he said.

The keeper also praised United's youngsters. "These kids are very, very special," he said. "You can't expect them all to go through nine months of top-class football without dips in form. Their ability is obvious but the way they have coped with the mental strain too is fantastic. They have kept us going through all the problems with injuries and suspensions this season.

"It's a great example of the confidence and attitude in the team than when we lose Gary Pallister, one of our best players, just before the kick-off we still go out there and beat the top team."

David Batty, however, still maintains that Newcastle can recover. The midfielder, who had to endure a losing debut after his pounds 3.75m transfer from Blackburn Rovers, said: "We wanted a least a point, but it wasn't to be, but we're still a point ahead with 10 games to go and while of course it was a setback it isn't a problem. I've only been here less than a week but we've definitely got the players and the resolve. There's no pressure whatsoever in the changing-room. We're just told to go out and play and that's the key to winning.

"The important thing is that it's got to be like water off a duck's back for us. We've got to go out and win our next game and show Monday was no big deal - whatever people might write."

It certainly was a big deal for the bookmakers, who changed their odds dramatically. Ladbrokes make Manchester United 6-5 favourites just weeks after Newcastle were an unbackable 5-1 on. William Hill offer just 8-1 against Ferguson becoming the first manager to complete a double of League and FA Cup doubles.

Newcastle, the morning after, page 23