Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has called on his team to turn their "sadistic nature" on their opposition rather than their own fans as they look to move 10 points clear at the top of the table at Fulham today.
Ferguson's side, who have secured 10 wins in a 12-match unbeaten run in the league, head into the weekend with a seven-point advantage but with Manchester City hosting Liverpool tomorrow, United could take the gap up to double figures.
Their forthcoming games will give Ferguson, who yesterday denied a charge by the Football Association that he implied a referee's assistant was motivated by bias, the belief that the gap could grow even larger before the final Manchester derby on 6 April.
After their trip to Craven Cottage, United host Everton but then they have matches against Queen's Park Rangers, Norwich, West Ham, Reading and Sunderland before facing City at Old Trafford.
But despite the advantage, Ferguson reflected on missed opportunities to increase his side's goal difference and maintained that games like last season's home defeat to Blackburn and Wednesday's fitful 2-1 win over Southampton mean that complacency will not be an issue. Ferguson said: "We just make it hard for our fans and that's the sadistic nature of our team. We should have been five up at half-time [against Southampton] and some games this season we've got into comfortable positions and not driven nails into it. It is frustrating because they are capable of that.
"It could go to goal difference. That's the issue and at the moment we're only two goals better off than Manchester City and that can be overturned in one game and we've had opportunities to be better."
"We didn't enjoy last season. That Blackburn game is a reminder to us. You can't take your foot off the pedal at our club anyway and it only takes a second to lose the goal. That second half the other night is another reminder. It's very tempting to think about it being 10 points but the most important thing is to keep our feet on the ground. It's an unremitting league and if you make mistakes, you get punished."
England striker Danny Welbeck is one example of United's apparent wastefulness in front of goal, having managed to score just once this season. But Ferguson defended the 22-year-old: "Keep Danny's chin up? That's not hard, trying to keep him down is harder."Reuse content