Ferguson: 'Top spot not important until March'


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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his club's three defeats this season had been "very, very difficult for a football club like Manchester United to handle" but insisted his side are six points ahead of previous form at the turn of the year.

The tussle between his side and Manchester City will be "nip and tuck", Ferguson said and though his last press conference of the year included a categoric refusal to discuss his 70th birthday – which is today – he said that recovery from the 6-1 hammering by Manchester City, following exits at the hands of Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup and Basle in the Champions League, had brought renewed confidence.

"We've lost three games this season and in a normal season by December you could possibly have lost three games in any season," said Ferguson, whose side have won eight and drawn one of their nine Premier League games since the October derby and can go back to the top by beating Blackburn Rovers today. "[There was] a 6-1 defeat by City – but we recovered. Crystal Palace – we recovered. Basle – we recovered. That tells you something about this team. Eventually the confidence and trust in each other comes through and we're seeing some terrific attack play."

Ferguson revealed that Tom Cleverley, the midfielder he said he considered "probably the best midfield player in Britain" was "nowhere near" a return to the side. Neither is Michael Owen, though Anderson has started training again and Fabio da Silva is 10 days away from his first training session. Nemanja Vidic underwent surgery on his cruciate on Wednesday but it will be "maybe next season" before he returns.

Edging ahead of City today will be inconsequential, claimed Ferguson, who, with Chris Smalling out with tonsillitis rather than glandular fever, is considering another makeshift back four of Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra and Ezekiel Fryers at Ewood Park. "I think it's too early [to view top spot as significant]; too early," Ferguson said. "The crucial period always is the end of March. If you drop points then, that can impact on your opponents and give them a boost and make their opportunities better. A lot of things come into it. When they announce what the televised games are, when you're playing, that can make a difference, if you're playing first or second. Also we're possibly playing Thursday-Sunday through the spring in [Europe]. City have that as well and Tottenham are not involved in that."

After good wishes were extended for his 70th birthday and he was asked about the occasion, Ferguson responded: "I'm not getting into that. I'm sorry at killing your question. I'm fed up listing birthdays. Wait until you get to 70 and you will understand what I'm talking about."