Ryan Giggs is making no apologies for the controversial penalty decision that allowed Manchester United to claim three vital points in the Premier League title battle when they beat Fulham on Monday night.
Despite dominating the encounter at Old Trafford, United failed to make their pressure tell and ended up enduring a nervous final few minutes as the visitors poured forward. They also required a massive slice of luck when the referee Michael Oliver failed to spot Michael Carrick bundling Danny Murphy over in the box a minute from time.
The Fulham manager, Martin Jol, grumbled at Oliver's failure to make a "brave decision". However, in recalling a very dubious penalty decision that went against his team earlier this season, Giggs felt it was just a case of such decisions evening themselves up.
"I was right behind the referee and I didn't think it was a penalty [at the time]," the veteran Welshman said yesterday. "Looking back on the replay, maybe it could have been. But it happens. We conceded a penalty against Newcastle [in November] that wasn't. They tend to even themselves out during a season. Perhaps that is what has happened here."
Despite the unconvincing nature of the win, United have now secured 28 points from the last 30 available and lead their championship rivals Manchester City by three points with eight games remaining.
Giggs was certainly not grumbling after Wayne Rooney secured victory with his 28th goal of the season just before half-time. "I would take 1-0s to the end of the season," Giggs said. "If we had scored in the last minute everyone would have been euphoric and buzzing.
"The way the game ended, with some sloppy passes and not keeping the ball, everyone is a little bit disappointed and rightly so, because we know what we are capable of. But, overall, we are pleased to get the three points."
If United win their next two games it will send City into their tough away encounter with Arsenal on 8 April at least six points in arrears. The additional incentive is that the game at the Emirates marks the start of an arduous week for City, who face three games in seven days, ending with a Saturday lunchtime trip to Norwich.
However, getting those victories is not going to be straightforward for United, with next Monday's encounter with Blackburn having the potential to be particularly troublesome. United have secured just two wins from their last 11 Premier League trips to Ewood Park and were forced to come from behind last season before grabbing a draw that secured their record 19th title.
Steve Kean's improving side have already beaten United 3-2 at Old Trafford this season, although that was on a day when Sir Alex Ferguson's team, already ravaged by injury, were further depleted when Rooney and Darron Gibson were omitted for disciplinary reasons. Nevertheless, they could hardly be in better form right now.
"It is a good achievement," Giggs said of the recent run of results. "The form has been really good. That is another reason why we were so frustrated with the Fulham game. It has taken a massive effort. We knew that City were there to be caught but we had some tough games. We got through them and, now we can see the finishing line, hopefully we can finish the job off."
United's experience will ensure they are not beaten through mental pressure. Giggs has emerged triumphant on 12 such run-ins and, even at the age of 38, he is relishing the prospect of another. "As a footballer you want to enjoy these times. You want to be involved in title chases," he said. "I am sure there will be more twists and turns to come."
Jol, meanwhile, has challenged his out-of-contract stars to show the mental strength required to commit themselves to the Cottagers. Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson are both free agents at the end of the season, while Clint Dempsey has one more year on his present deal. Jol wants all three to sign new contracts as he continues to reshape his squad.
Progress has been slow so far although, with the club's Premier League status virtually secure, negotiations may become slightly easier.
"If they are mentally strong they will stay with us," Jol said. "If not, if they need to play or go somewhere else, we can go on with our transformation. We have five or six players who are different from last year but we are not there yet. The balance could be better at times and I want us to be a bit more aggressive at times. "There are goals in us but for the last five or six years Fulham has not scored enough away from home, which is strange."
They could not muster one at Manchester United on Monday night, continuing a tale of Old Trafford woe for Jol, who has never secured an away win over United, having previously been denied seven years ago when, as Tottenham Hotspur manager, he was on the wrong end of a famous goal that never was from Pedro Mendes.
"I have had a few things happen here," he said. "It is always narrow but it never goes my way. What happened was exactly what we had in mind, to come away with a point. They had a couple of good chances but we should have had a draw at the end."
That view had been reflected in Jol's immediate response after the penalty incident, when he said. "I think everyone in the stadium expected a penalty. We could have had a result and I think they looked pretty nervous at the end."
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