Sir Alex Ferguson last night exerted his final piece of pressure on Manchester City by declaring that his own club's chance of a 20th title will be extinguished if Roberto Mancini's players win at Newcastle United on Sunday.
"Yes. Yes, it looks like it," Ferguson said solemnly as he reflected on the prospect of City facing Alan Pardew's vibrant side, with Mark Hughes' relegation-threatened Queen's Park Rangers to follow. United lost 3-0 at St James' Park on 4 January and the Magpies' 2-0 win at Chelsea on Wednesday night has reinforced the Old Trafford manager's view that a first title in 44 years will not be handed to City.
"They have got to win at Newcastle, that's the challenge for them," Ferguson said. "Newcastle, as we know, is a very difficult place to go to and they're playing well. They lost incredibly to Wigan by four goals and then galvanised themselves to go and win 2-0 at Chelsea.
"As everyone knows, winning at Chelsea is a very difficult job. We had not done it for eight years, so their form is good and it will not be an easy game."
United, who have the advantage of playing second in their home game against Swansea on Sunday, could have virtually clinched the title if Mancini's side lose and United then beat Brendan Rodgers' team. Ferguson, who may have Danny Welbeck back for United's last fixture at Sunderland, believes that goal difference is now irrelevant, with City already eight goals to the good.
Ferguson was as unimpressed as Rodgers and Martin O'Neill probably are by Mancini's suggestion that United's last two games are "easy". Asked if he accepts Mancini's claim that United remain favourites, he replied: "What do you think? They've got two games left. If they win the two games they've won the league... I don't think you get easy games. If you are going to Sunderland on the last day you are thinking, with the support they have got up there and the manager they have, you don't expect an easy game. The way Swansea have played this season has been admirable. I went to see them last Saturday against Wolves. It was incredible."
Ferguson expressed surprise at Roy Hodgson's appointment as England manager, but in his support said he has "all that experience behind him". The unexpected part, Ferguson said, was "that for the first time I can remember the FA didn't bend to the press. The press had their own view of Harry [Redknapp] and I think we all supported that. But normally the FA bend to the press. Roy... has the right profile in many respects for the job.
"You cannot beat experience. I've always said, for that England manager's job you need to be in your 60s without doubt. You need to be going into that job with all the experience behind you... He'll obviously need luck in terms of dealing with the press because that's really important in that job, everyone will want a cut of him. If he tries to favour one against the other he'll be slaughtered, so he has to find a way of accommodating all the press as one person."
Commenting on Papiss Cissé's goals in Wednesday's Newcastle win, Ferguson said: "They go on about the second goal but I thought the first was a better one because he had to get a touch on it. From the angle he was, to put it in the top corner was fantastic. The second was an incredible hit – but it could have gone anywhere."