Manchester United will hold their nerve, says Sir Alex Ferguson

 

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has warned title rivals Manchester City that his team will not crack on the run-in.

After picking up just seven points from their last seven Barclays Premier League away games, City have now surrendered the initiative in the battle for domestic supremacy.

Even worse, the Blues are facing the prospect of slipping four points behind their fiercest rivals, who visit relegation-threatened Wolves at the weekend, before they can do something about it in what promises to be tough encounter with Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on March 21.

As Roy Hodgson pointed out following West Brom's 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford yesterday, the Baggies dragged themselves out of the relegation zone and up to 11th with their form over the final 10 games last season, so all is not lost for City just yet.

Still, Ferguson took the opportunity to remind the Blues what they probably already knew; Manchester United are not going to fold.

"We have that experience and it does help," said the United boss.

"We won't get nervous.

"Against West Brom we kept playing our football even at 1-0 when the fans were thinking 'just get us a second'.

"It didn't concern the players one bit. It is good to see that kind of temperament."

It is the kind of attitude that is only built up through years of scrapping for major honours and United's significant advantage in a season when their squad has been decimated by injuries.

Nani and Anderson are the latest to succumb, although at least with the former, his present absence with an injury picked up on the training ground should not be long term.

Ferguson avoided a question about Anderson, which meant there was no opportunity to allay fears generated by rumours that the midfielder has picked up a hamstring problem that may, in a worst case scenario, end his season.

Yet the return of Tom Cleverley from his ankle injury means help is at hand, just as United have somehow kept a flow of goals from wider positions coming by having either Nani, Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia available even though Ferguson has rarely been able to choose from all three.

Valencia returns to training this week after picking up a hamstring injury nearly four weeks ago, whilst Young, who missed nearly two months with a knee injury, is starting to find top form again and was a clear man-of-the-match yesterday.

"It takes time to get your rhythm back and Ashley showed that in his two performances against Ajax last month," said Ferguson.

"But he did well against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday and he was excellent again against West Brom."

United's newly-gained league status should sharpen minds ahead of this week's return encounter with Bilbao.

While Ferguson would never merely give a game up, he is highly unlikely to ask his first-choice XI to turn around a tie they should really have no chance in anyway such was the brilliance of the Basque outfit at Old Trafford.

Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand are unlikely to be risked and it would be no surprise if Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney were on the bench as Ferguson attempts to keep key men fresh for the weekend trip to Molineux.

"He can go as far as he wants to," said Young of Rooney, whose season tally now stands at 26, just eight fewer than his best haul, and has been challenged to hit 40 by his manager.

"He has done brilliantly this season. Hopefully he keeps adding to his tally and we can keep getting the three points."

As City have stuttered, so United have come flying through a sequence of fixtures many felt would signal the end of their challenge.

But victories over Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, in addition to a three-goal comeback that clinched a point at Chelsea, has turned them into favourites.

"We felt if we came through those tough away fixtures we would be setting ourselves up for the rest of the season," said Young.

"We have managed to do that and now our home form is key.

"A lot of people might not have thought we would be in front of City but we have that belief.

"As long as we are winning our games, the pressure is on them."

PA

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