Sir Alex Ferguson may have been perplexed in the wake of his team's enthralling 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, but the Scot knows one thing for certain - his Manchester United team have come through the Christmas period as genuine title challengers.
Two Paul Scholes goals either side of half-time were insufficient to claim all three points against a Magpies side which produced one of their finest performances of the season. And although Ferguson failed to understand how his players missed a succession of presentable chances he mixed effusive praise for Newcastle with strong words intended to unsettle the reigning champions.
"Chelsea aren't getting their own way like they have done for the past couple of seasons and we are serious contenders now," said the Manchester United manager. "But I always said that if we got to January and we were top of the league I'd be happy with that and I am.
"I just don't know what to make of the Newcastle game. We missed a stack of chances, but I have to admire the grit and character of that Newcastle team. They fully deserved their point.
"It's not an easy place to come but we had enough chances to win the game and should have done better," Ferguson admitted. "We didn't play as well as we have been playing. Newcastle didn't allow us to play our normal game. They wanted to be first to every ball and first to every tackle and credit to them for their attitude.
"In terms of the race for the title there will be points lost by both teams and it's a real challenge now for us to go on and win the championship."
Newcastle had a stunning second half goal from teenage defender David Edgar to thank for their share of the spoils, but Glenn Roeder revealed the Canadian had been named as a substitute until Nicky Butt failed a late fitness test to face his former club two hours before kick-off.
"It is fair to say David was the main beneficiary of Nicky's absence," said the Magpies' manager. "Football is a funny game and who could have predicted that turn of events? Nicky was due to partner Steven Taylor at the heart of our defence after doing so well for us in that position at Everton but he picked up knee and ankle injuries at Goodison Park.
"We had an inexperienced defence out there but I told my players before the game that anything was possible. That was as good as Newcastle have performed against Manchester United for a while."Reuse content