Sir Alex Ferguson conceded that Manchester United's visit to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week today will be the biggest derby the two clubs have ever known after United failed to beat Everton at Old Trafford yesterday.
Ferguson's team twice threw away a two-goal advantage to draw the game 4-4 after David Moyes' team scored two goals in the last seven minutes through Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar. A 2-0 victory for Manchester City over Wolverhampton Wanderers later in the day means that City are within three points of United and can take over at the top of the Premier League on goal difference if they beat them next week.
Ferguson said that his team had "given them [City] the initiative". With two goals from Wayne Rooney and one each for Danny Welbeck and Nani, United led at 3-1 and 4-2 but made fundamental defensive mistakes to let Everton back into the game.
The United manager said: "It makes the game at the Etihad a really important game. A decider really. We make it hard for ourselves as we normally do but we'll have to go there knowing we are capable of getting a result.
"I think [against Everton] there were defensive lapses, their goals were soft, really soft goals. We have created goals through really good football but I think they got their goals easy."
He added: "We need to get a result at the Etihad, there is no question about that. We need to perform. There is no reason why we can't do that. There has been an expectancy from City that it could be their decider, but it's our decider too.
"There will be a reaction, obviously, there is no question about that. The game on Monday would always be a derby game of the highest proportions and this won't be any different." Asked whether it was the biggest Manchester derby he could remember, Ferguson replied: "Yes, definitely. Game on." Should United win at the Etihad Stadium they would need just one point from their remaining two games against Swansea City and Sunderland to win the title.
Ferguson bemoaned his team's "terrible" defending against Everton, who had two goals from Jelavic and one each from Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini.
He said: "We've thrown it away, it's as simple as that. We just didn't deal with the balls into Fellaini. Lack of concentration. Some of the football in the second half was fantastic, the goals were brilliant, and it was a travesty of a result in some ways to play that type of football and concede four goals."
Moyes said that it had always been his intention to try to win the game after the disappointment of last weekend's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool. "I think it was a wee bit to say 'Hey, we're not that bad a team'. We've been a very good team since January. From our point of view we reminded people that we're still here."
City's 2-0 win at Wolves – which relegated the home team yesterday – allowed Roberto Mancini to maintain his public pretence last night that only United can win the title – a pretence his defender, Joleon Lescott, revealed last week he does not maintain behind closed doors. "No, it's not in our hands. We are three points less and we play two other difficult games after the derby," Mancini claimed. "Congratulations [to United] for this season, this title. Maybe you can [bet] 100 per cent on United winning it. We don't have any pressure because we don't have any chance of winning [the title]."
This self-serving line is wearing a bit thin, now that City's destiny is in their own hands. United's result had not created pressure, he insisted. "I don't know this. At the moment we don't have any pressure because we don't have any chance of winning." He would re-appraise his position on title prospects after the United game." We can talk about this on Monday night..." That's one thing we most certainly will be doing.
500-1 The pre-match odds given on yesterday's game finishing 4-4