We’re lucky? Manchester City are lucky to be only 12 points behind Manchester United, says Sir Alex Ferguson

United manager hits back at Mancini, and says late goals have been a 25-year habit

Sir Alex Ferguson reacted to Roberto Mancini’s jibe that Manchester United have been “lucky” by claiming that City are fortunate to be only 12 points behind.

Mancini remarked that United’s “luck” was best displayed by the number of games they have won in the last few minutes “including against us”.

However, Ferguson, who has seen his side snatch 27 points from losing positions this season, was withering in his assessment of the Manchester City manager. “He is lucky they are only 12 points behind. It is not lucky we score late goals; we have only been doing it for 25 years. It is a terrible habit,” he said.

In a series of interviews with academics from Harvard University last year, the United manager suggested some of the club’s training methods are designed with late goals in mind.

Ferguson would not elaborate yesterday but added: “The late goals are no accident. We did it to win the treble in 1999 – every step of the way we got late goals. It is not an accident this time because this is a team that wants to win all the time.”

Following the signing of a new one-year contract, this afternoon’s encounter with Norwich City will be Ryan Giggs’ 1,000th senior game, a record Ferguson expects never to be equalled.

Should United beat the Canaries at Old Trafford – which they have only once failed to do since 1989 – Mancini will find himself 15 points adrift by the time City kick off at Aston Villa on Monday night.

That is the biggest difference between United’s attempt to win a treble now and the season they achieved the feat. Then, Ferguson argued that what kept his side on track was that, in the Premier League, Arsenal pushed them to the very end. At this stage of the 1998-99 season Manchester United were seven points clear of Arsène Wenger’s side. They won the league by one.

 “The similarities to 1999 are that our FA Cup run was a hard one and our European ties were really hard,” said Ferguson.

“We were in a group with Barcelona and Bayern Munich and got a quarter-final against Inter Milan and a semi-final against Juventus. This year we got Real Madrid straight up. In the FA Cup, we have had Premier League teams all the time – something we experienced in 1999 also.”

 The biggest game on United’s horizon, the second leg of their Champions League encounter with Real Madrid, is now squarely on the horizon. Although Jose Mourinho’s side will have endured successive matches against Barcelona before going to Old Trafford on Tuesday, nothing Ferguson saw at the Nou Camp this week left him complacent.

“I was shocked,” he said of Real’s 3-1 win in the Copa Del Rey. “I thought Real Madrid were magnificent, I really did. They won well with Ronaldo, Di Maria and Ozil on the counter-attack.That is what we will be up against on Tuesday and that is what our preparations are centring on – making sure their counter-attacking doesn’t kill us.”