Heat lamps turn Old Trafford into fortress


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The Independent Football

Chelsea must defy arguably Manchester United's best home season of all time at Old Trafford if they are to salvage their title hopes.

Though United have gone through an entire season unbeaten at home in all competitions three times before – most recently in 1982/3 – the surrender of only two league home points and a mere three draws after 24 games in all competitions is an extraordinary one. Their manager attributed the record in part, yesterday, to a knowledge among his players that they had to use the stadium to atone for an "ordinary" record away from home.

"When you see our away record which has been – how would you put it? – ordinary, the realisation of that away record has made us really step up to the mark at home because some of the performances have been very good," the manager said.

If United do win the league, it will be with a Premier League record low number of points taken away from home – 27 points from a possible 57 is the maximum United can now claim on the road in the league.

Ferguson suggested that the improvements to the care of the pitch had also helped. "It's a fantastic pitch, the best we've ever had. The advent of these lamps – we have maybe 24 now – definitely helps right through the winter. They are used after every game, on all the time. That has got us through the winter months better than ever. December, January, February have tended to be bad months when the pitch used to break up... We used to have particularly difficult games in January, too."

Since all Premier League clubs use the heat lamps, a more significant factor is the burgeoning belief that comes with a succession of home wins.

Home comforts?

United at home since 2000/01:

*Dropped points: 111

*Losses: 19

*Draws: 27

*Worst season: 01/02, 22 points lost

*Worst results:

0-3 Chelsea, 1 December 2001, 1-4 Liverpool, 14 March 2009

Chelsea at home since 2000/01:

*Dropped points: 141

*Losses: 17

*Draws: 45

*Worst season: 01/02, 22 points lost

*Worst results:

0-3 Man Utd, 20 April 2002, 1-4 Sunderland, 14 November 2010