Ferguson: Where we lost the league...

'Absolute carelessness' of letting slip two-goal lead seen as potential moment when United lost the title

Sir Alex Ferguson's own mental inquisition goes on: focusing, no doubt, on the wisdom of pitching Chris Smalling in at centre-half against Manchester City, when he had not played for a month, and on the way in which he was let down by Luis Nani, having opted for him over Antonio Valencia, potentially Manchester United's player of the season.

But in his most detailed public discussion of Monday's 1-0 derby defeat, which could hand Manchester City their first title since 1968, the United manager declared that the fixture which could yet lose his side the title was, in fact, the 4-4 draw with Everton last month.

The defeat at Wigan Athletic on 11 April is one Ferguson appears to have come to terms with, but the sacrifice of a 3-1 and 4-2 lead to David Moyes' side 11 days later – a comeback which had Stan Collymore making comparisons to Muhammad Ali's eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" – was one he yesterday labelled, "the killer for us". It was an "absolutely ridiculous performance in the last 10 minutes of the match," he said. " Just absolute carelessness. It's alright saying the history of the club is to attack but it was a stupid performance and it's put us on the back foot. If we lose the league, we'll have to accept that it's the Everton game that did it. "

Ferguson's determination to bolster his midfield saw him select Park Ji-sung in Monday's derby, yet Valencia's exclusion is the decision that has caused most surprise, even though Nani's track record against City is good. Smalling's inexperience also allowed Vincent Kompany to get a run on him to score the winner. "Young Chris Smalling got caught under the ball," Ferguson admitted.

He was also unhappy with Nigel de Jong's tackle on Danny Welbeck, which left United with no option but to keep him on the field with a leg injury, having used up all their substitutes."I thought it was a bad tackle. I didn't think it was a red card and when I saw it again I thought a yellow card was sufficient. It put him out of the game, because at the time he was looking as if he was going to do something."

Ferguson must now await the result of City's match at Newcastle United tomorrow lunchtime, with a defeat for City and a win for United at home to Swansea later on being enough to virtually seal the title. "At the end of the day, we're on the back foot. We're not favourites, that's for sure," he said.

He hopes that Darren Fletcher will be available for pre-season training, although he offered no clear sense that the 28-year-old will return next season: "He's on a recovery road in the sense of some work he's doing, but we're not able to assess that because we don't know enough about it; Darren's medical people are dealing with that."

There does appear to be interest from United in Borussia Dortmund's Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who would provide the midfield creativity for a fraction of the price of Tottenham's Luka Modric, although the United manager has a tendency to be wary about signing Bundesliga players as he feels the step up to the Premier League can catch them out. He always felt Edin Dzeko lacked the requisite pace. The 23-year-old would be valuable in a commercial sense if Park leaves this summer, although Kagawa's representatives may simply be seeking to drive up his price by encouraging a United link.

Ferguson also reserved some strong criticism for the 5.15 kick-off time for today's FA Cup final. "Absolutely ridiculous," he said. "Stupid. The whole reason is to get an audience, so they dominate the actual kick-off time of the FA Cup final, which is the most prestigious cup tournament in the world. It's bedlam down there now [at the FA]. Bedlam."

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