United are still in title race, says Ferguson

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Sir Alex Ferguson can often be found revelling in the apparent discomfort of his rivals at this time of year but his belief that there is still life in this season's title race was as much a tribute to Manchester United's resurgent form as an attempt to stir the nest at Chelsea yesterday.

"Pivotal" was how the Scot described today's games at Birmingham and Bolton, and given that Jose Mourinho's men could well have established a 12-point lead before United step out at the Reebok Stadium - the start of a testing run-in that also includes dates with Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea - that is a somewhat optimistic assessment.

Ferguson, however, could be forgiven for celebrating United's belated form in a season, blighted by injury and an ill-equipped midfield, which could yet yield the former title standard of 90 points should they win their remaining seven games.

Ferguson conceded the title following a goalless draw at Highbury on 3 January, so yesterday's U-turn was almost as startling as the one his team have performed in a 10-game sequence that has delivered 24 points.

"It could be a pivotal weekend if Chelsea drop points," he said. "If we keep doing our job properly and they drop points the gap could be down to six and then you never know. This is such an extraordinary game and that is why I have always said we must be the closest team to Chelsea if they do collapse. We can still do something."

What Ferguson and United have done is extend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Old Trafford career by a further two years, and inform Quinton Fortune that his time with the club is over. Despite being plagued by a career-threatening knee injury that has restricted him to three appearances this season Solskjaer has been granted a deal that contains a coaching role at youth level.

"We are confident Ole will be back next year and we are also encouraging him to do his coaching badges," Ferguson said. "He has got the ability to be a good coach and he is also a good role model for the club. We need to utilise our great players more in that way; at the moment we rely heavily on Bobby Charlton."

Fortune has not played since suffering a knee injury in pre-season and his contract will not be renewed this summer.

Ferguson's is yet to decide whether to start with Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored the only goal against West Ham United in midweek following five weeks on the bench, or Louis Saha against Bolton, whose manager, Sam Allardyce, he believes has "an outstanding chance" of succeeding Sven Goran Eriksson as England coach.

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