Title has slipped away, concedes Ferguson after toothless display

Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester United 0

Sir Alex Ferguson conceded last night that the Premier League title appears to have "slipped away" from his Manchester United side after they were held to a goalless draw by Blackburn Rovers.

United's poor display completed the perfect weekend for Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea, who having advanced into the FA Cup final at Aston Villa's expense, could extend their lead to four points if they beat Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge tomorrow evening. Ferguson's prospects are further dented by the forbidding prospect of facing Manchester City at Eastlands next Saturday, where Carlos Tevez will be relishing the prospect of driving the final nail in his old manager's season.

Ferguson, who faces an anxious wait on Rio Ferdinand's fitness following a groin injury sustained yesterday, suggested a poor pitch had not helped but did not deny the fault was United's yesterday. "I think it [the title] has slipped away from us today," he said. "It is going to be very difficult to win this league. We have a lifeline if Chelsea blow it, but to my eyes they have an easy game against Bolton. We would expect them to win that.

"We needed to win. We had to win [all of our remaining] games. We didn't do it. That is the disappointment."

Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce did not spare his old friend. He might have helped Ferguson celebrate the success of his horse, ironically named What A Friend, in the Aintree winners' enclosure four days ago, but the generosity of spirit stopped at the gates of Ewood Park yesterday.

"You've got to understand you don't come here and get it easy," Allardyce declared darkly last night. "Teams can't come here, certainly back end of the season, and think they are going to create chances and win. Chelsea have come here twice and not won."

The difference between Chelsea's 1-1 draw here two weeks ago and this desultory stalemate was that Carlo Ancelotti's side, for the first 45 minutes at least, looked capable of breaching Allardyce's defence as easily as clicking their fingers, whereas United were a side almost as shorn of creativity as in the home defeat to Chelsea a week earlier. In the 13 days it has taken them to slip out of Europe and into Chelsea's slipstream, they have become a group of individuals lacking conviction either in themselves or each other.

Allardyce overlooked Dimitar Berbatov last night when he said of United that "statistics tell you their second biggest scorer is own goals ... isn't it?"

That was quite understandable given the Bulgarian resembled a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown – flapping and grumbling at every team-mate who suffered the misfortune of interlinking with him, plunging head in hands at each chance spurned, drifting deeper and deeper into midfield as the game wore on. Tellingly, one of his last actions was to slip on the turf and throw a handful of it away in frustration.

With the exception of the sublime pass which fashioned the game's stand-out scoring chance, it would have served everyone in red had he simply not been there, especially Federico Macheda, a 19-year-old in need of support, not censure, as he started his first game of the season. Berbatov's team-mates seemed to be saying something when, as half-time approached, he lay writhing in Blackburn's penalty area and, to a man, they just played on.

The contrast with Wayne Rooney's effervescence has become so blinding in these past few weeks that you wonder where Berbatov goes this summer, but it is not just a finisher that United lack. This was the afternoon for a playmaker to glitter in the sunshine, picking a route or a pass through the six players Allardyce had clamped to the edge of the penalty area for most of the game. It was messy, not Messi, in that critical last third for United and Ferguson's team selection suggested as much hope forsaken in the players of the future as they seem to have lost in themselves. Michael Carrick would have aspired to be United's creative nexus at a time like this but he sat on the bench, just like a week ago. It was the tried and tested – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville – whom Ferguson once again turned to.

Antonio Valencia, one of this season's bright lights, might have turned the game when Berbatov seized on Paul Robinson's poor clearance, worked some space in front of the Rovers box and sent him in with a disguised pass, but Paul Robinson recovered to save well with his feet just before the interval.

United threw the cavalry at it as the second half drifted away, though Rovers' spirit, manifest in the way Phil Jones launched himself in the line of Berbatov's fire 20 minutes from time, held out and Steven Nzonzi almost secured the points at the end. Berbatov had spurned two more chances just before that. As he did so, the mind turned to Carlos Tevez popping up with an 88th-minute equaliser here, almost two years ago to the day, which secured United a point critical to their title. The horses really hadn't offered Ferguson an omen, after all. It might not have escaped his attention that his old adversary JP McManus was the owner of the Grand National winner on Saturday – ridden by a jockey wearing green and gold.

Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): P Robinson; Salgado, Samba (Nelsen, 33), Jones, Givet; Grella, Nzonzi; Emerton (Dunn, h-t), Pedersen, Olsson (Diouf, 70); Kalinic. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Roberts, Andrews, Di Santo.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, O'Shea (Evra, 78); Valencia, Scholes, Giggs (Gibson, 57), Nani; Berbatov, Macheda (Park, 65). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Evans, Fletcher, Obertan.

Referee: P Walton (Northants).

Booked: Blackburn Salgado; Manchester United Neville, Gibson.

Man of the Match: Jones.

Attendance: 29,912.

Title run-in: final fixtures

Remaining Fixtures

Chelsea: Tues Bolton (a); 17 Apr Tottenham (a); 25 Apr Stoke (h); 1 May Liverpool (a); 9 May Wigan (h).

Manchester United: 17 Apr Man City (a); 24 Apr Tottenham (h); 1 May Sunderland (a); 9 May Stoke City (h).

Arsenal: Wed Tottenham (a); 18 Apr Wigan (a); 24 Apr Man City (h); 1 May Blackburn (a); 9 May Fulham (h).

Premier League table

 P W D L F A Pts

Chelsea 33 23 5 5 84 30 74

Man Utd 34 23 4 7 77 27 73

Arsenal 33 22 5 6 75 34 71

Man City 33 17 11 5 69 41 62

Tottenham 32 17 7 8 58 32 58

Liverpool 34 16 8 10 54 33 56

Aston Villa 32 14 12 6 44 32 54

Everton 33 13 11 9 52 44 50

Birmingham 34 12 10 12 35 43 46

Stoke 33 10 13 10 32 35 43

Blackburn 34 11 10 13 35 50 43

Fulham 33 11 9 13 35 37 42

Sunderland 34 9 11 14 44 52 38

Wolves 34 8 9 17 28 51 33

Bolton 33 8 8 17 36 61 32

West Ham 34 7 10 17 41 57 31

Wigan 33 8 7 18 30 64 31

Burnley 34 7 6 21 36 72 27

Hull 33 6 9 18 32 70 27

* Portsmouth 33 6 5 22 28 60 14

* Deducted nine points

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas