We won't lose our title nerve, Neville warns Chelsea

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The Independent Online

Gary Neville has warned Chelsea that Manchester United do not intend to slip meekly out of the Premiership title race. United head to West Ham today top of the table, boasting a five-point lead over their Stamford Bridge rivals. Yet both Jose Mourinho and John Terry have expressed confidence in Chelsea's ability to haul United back, claiming the Red Devils are bound to fade.

In line with the present philosophy of Sir Alex Ferguson, Neville is refusing to rise to the bait. Furthermore, United's captain has warned the champions that if they are expecting his men to collapse, they are mistaken.

"Chelsea are five points behind and obviously trying to suggest we are at the peak of our form and maybe we will slip away. I am not so sure we will," Neville told MUTV. "There have been certain points in the season when we have not been able to play any better; Bolton away for instance. But in terms of consistency, we can do it more often.

"We did not play well against Manchester City last week and no one produces great performances week in, week out. All we can do is concentrate on our own job and doing what we are doing at the moment.

"We know there is a long way to go. We are not even halfway through the season yet, so no one is getting carried away. But why should we look over our shoulders? We want to look ahead and try to increase our lead at the top rather than thinking they are coming up behind."

It is beyond dispute that United have enjoyed some good fortune on the injury front, specifically the constant fitness of 12-goal striker Louis Saha, who will again lead the attack at Upton Park. However, Neville also points to the added maturity of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in his side's return to prominence after three below-par seasons.

"What we have kept on saying is that we want to be in a position where we are in the championship race come February and March," he said. "We still have a lot of work to do before we get to that position.

"But by the time we reached this point in the last two seasons, we have been 10 or 15 points behind and not even in a race. We have been playing catch-up from the word go.

"It is slightly different this year. I think everyone can see this is a different United team. It is tougher. Players have matured and improved. We are a better squad and we are happy with the way we are playing."

Meanwhile, Middlesbrough's James Morrison is warning the Premiership to expect big things from the club's youngsters over the next couple of years. The 20-year-old winger is one of a crop of promising young players inherited by the manager Gareth Southgate from his predecessor Steve McClaren following their graduation from a hugely productive academy. He and the likes of Lee Cattermole, Stewart Downing, Andrew Taylor and Stuart Parnaby will head for Fulham tomorrow along with their more senior colleagues already firmly established as first-team players and with more waiting in the wings.

Morrison said: "The fans have been expecting more from us, but I think they realise we are still young and are just learning the game. In two years' time, that is when we are going to be at our peak and when they can expect really big things from us.

"I am sure a lot of the players will do that. Gareth played with us and he knows what we are all about and what we can do."

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