Rooney confident of hitting goal trail to haul in top two

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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney believes Manchester United are well placed in a three-horse race for the Premier League title. Sir Alex Ferguson's side are seven points behind leaders Liverpool with two matches in hand, both at home, to Wigan and Fulham, and Rooney is looking forward to the run-in against their north-west rivals and Chelsea.

"I think we are in a good position," the United striker said. "We would have liked to have played those two matches in hand but we've got them to come. If we can get some good results in those games we would be in a really good position.

"You can never write Arsenal off and they are a good team and Aston Villa are doing well as well but in the end I think it will be down to one of the top three."

So far United are not showing any after-effects from their trip to Japan earlier this month where they lifted the Club World Cup, having won both league matches 1-0 since their return. However, Dimitar Berbatov's solitary goal against Middlesbrough on Monday night was only the club's fourth in their last six league matches.

But despite converting just one of 25 chances against Gareth Southgate's side, Rooney believes it is only a matter of time before United start firing on all cylinders again.

"I thought we played well, created a lot of chances and could have scored four or five goals," he said. "If those chances go in everyone speaks differently. If we don't score it is a worry but we got the goal that mattered."

Ferguson warned his players after the match that they have to start turning their dominance into goals on a more regular basis if they do not want to slip up in their attempts to haul in the top two.

Chelsea have scored 40 times in 20 matches and have a goal difference of +31, well in excess of their two main rivals. Rooney admits it is something which the United players are conscious of and are trying to rectify. "Of course we want to score more goals. Going into the last game of the season last year goal difference could have won the league," he added. "We want to try to get our goal difference up but this stage of the season is a difficult period and you are just looking to get points on the board.

"We missed some good opportunities against Middlesbrough, the keeper [Ross Turnbull] made some good saves but that is football, it happens. It has happened a bit more than we would have liked this first part of the season so hopefully we can start taking those chances."

With Carlos Tevez having returned home to Argentina to deal with a family matter Berbatov seized his opportunity with a 69th-minute goal just as it looked as if Middlesbrough might escape Old Trafford with a point.

It was only his seventh goal of the season after Ferguson spent £30.75m on transfer deadline day in August. However, the former Tottenham striker shrugged off concerns about United's form in front of goal.

"It was obvious we were the better team. Sometimes you miss a lot of chances but 1-0 is enough. Three points is the most important thing," he said. "I'm not worried. Maybe we have to work on our concentration in the last third of the field but as long as we create chances it is good. I have plenty to show but I will keep working."

Berbatov was also bullish about their chances in the title race. "If we win our two games in hand then it is good for us. In the end it is in our hands," he said.

Southgate accepts his side now have to work hard to lift themselves away from the relegation zone, which they hover just above on goal difference. His main hope over the next month is to keep his squad together with Stewart Downing interesting Tottenham and Tuncay linked with Chelsea. "We are not looking to sell and we certainly are not looking to lose our better players," he said. "We want to be a stable club and the best policy for us is to keep the players we have got."