Carrick says Everton loss was a blip

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The Independent Online

Michael Carrick insists the only way to treat Saturday's crushing defeat at Everton is as a one-off.

After roaring back into the Barclays Premier League title picture and registering one of their most famous European away wins over AC Milan, Manchester United headed to Goodison Park in ebullient mood.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson made no attempt to hide the significance of the contest, feeling confident his side would give their usual destructive performance against the Toffees.

Instead, Ferguson was left aghast at a woeful second-half showing that consigned United to a 3-1 defeat and left them four points adrift of title rivals Chelsea, who took advantage a couple of hours later by winning at Wolves.

It leaves the Red Devils heading into what Ferguson describes as "squeaky-bum time" knowing victory over Chelsea at the beginning of April will not in itself be enough to clinch a fourth straight title.

Carrick admits it is a frustrating situation. But, given how the league campaign has unfolded this season, he sees no reason to get too downhearted.

"We were surprised at the performance on Saturday and hugely disappointed with the way the game went," said Carrick.

"We have had some massive games in the last month and played really well over that period of time.

"That is why Saturday was such a shock. I suppose we have to look at it as a one-off.

"We are certainly not getting too down about things. We have to bounce back but the manner of our performances over the past few weeks leads us to believe we can do it again."

Victory over West Ham at Old Trafford tomorrow would not make amends.

However, it would provide a confidence boost ahead of Sunday's Carling Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley in addition to keeping Chelsea aware they are in a fight.

"It has been a funny season with the results that have been thrown up and I certainly hope there are more slips before the end," said Carrick.

"It is frustrating to know we need Chelsea to slip up once or twice but we need it to be a big game when they come to Old Trafford and ensure there is a lot riding on it.

"We still believe we are in there fighting.

"There are a lot of points to play for so we need to keep winning and apply some pressure."

As someone who has finished a champion in each of his three full seasons since his £18.6million move to Old Trafford from Tottenham, Carrick is reluctant to let than run come to an end.

However, he knows extending it means inflicting some pain on West Ham, the club where he started his career and who he clearly retains a lot of affection for.

"West Ham gave me my chance," he said.

"They took me away from home, taught me a lot of things and guided me through.

"They gave me a chance in the first team, so I have a lot to thank them for.

"I still have a lot of friends there who I like to see when I go back.

"But, obviously, when we kick off it is business as usual and I am desperate to get the win."

Another Hammers old boy, Rio Ferdinand, is set to return from suspension to bolster United's defence.

The 31-year-old could partner Nemanja Vidic for the first time since October given the Serbian is also expected to be available after a recent nerve problem.

Changes from Saturday are anticipated, with Paul Scholes among those likely to be included.

Ferguson's biggest decision, though, surrounds Wayne Rooney, who has been in such explosive form recently but appeared to be trying too hard to impress against his old club at the weekend.

Leaving Rooney on the bench would be a brave move, even if its sole purpose would be to keep him fresh for Wembley, but it would offer Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen the chance to forge some kind of partnership, or Ferguson may hand impressive youngster Mame Biram Diouf his first start.

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