Fergie admits title race back on after Fulham defeat
Sir Alex Ferguson conceded the Premier League title race is back on after his Manchester United side fell to a second successive defeat by losing 2-0 at Fulham on Saturday.sports Updated: Mar 22, 2009 13:13 IST
Sir Alex Ferguson conceded the Premier League title race is back on after his Manchester United side fell to a second successive defeat by losing 2-0 at Fulham on Saturday.
The United manager was angered by the dismissals of Paul Scholes and, in particular, Wayne Rooney during the shock reverse at Craven Cottage.
But having seen his side fail to respond to the shock of losing 4-1 at home to rivals Liverpool seven days previously, Ferguson admitted that United face a tense, final nine league games of the campaign as they attempt to stay clear of Rafael Benitez's side and Chelsea.
"You lose games in March and April and it can cost you," Ferguson said.
"Fortunately we have a slender lead at the moment but it's not a lot and I'm hoping they go away for internationals and they will come back and be back to our best. We have a home game against Aston Villa and that's going to be crucial."
Ferguson's side will face Villa without Scholes and Rooney who will both be suspended.
Scholes can have no complaints after his handball had denied Bobby Zamora's goal-bound 17th minute header and allowed Danny Murphy to put Fulham ahead from the penalty spot.
Rooney's dismissal was more contentious in the manager's eyes, with Ferguson insisting the striker had not shown dissent when he reacted in frustration to a quick free-kick being called back after Zoltan Gera had put the home side two up with three minutes to play.
"Did he throw the ball at the referee?" questioned Ferguson. "The ball was thrown direct to where the free-kick was taken. Did the ball hit the referee? No, the ball didn't hit the referee.
"Did he throw in anger? Yes, because he wants the game hurried up. He threw it with pace to get the game going. What can you say to that?
"There was not really a bad tackle in the game. But there is no point talking about referees, we didn't play well enough to win the game in the first half and that's the reason we have lost it."
Alarmingly for Ferguson, his side appeared unable to snap themselves out of the form that had allowed Liverpool to run rampant and while Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Spurs provided some welcome good news, the manager knows United must improve if they are to revive hopes of a clean sweep of honours.
"We have always responded well in the past and that's where the disappointment comes for me," said the manager.
"The first half we never got started. They were lively and they got stuck in but you expect that, you're away from home and they lost 4-0 (in the FA Cup quarter-finals) to you a fortnight ago so you expect that. We didn't make the challenge."
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson was quick to throw his weight behind Ferguson's side when asked to name his favourites for the title.
But Hodgson was more concerned with his own side's position having passed the 40 point mark that normally guarantees safety and is now looking towards pressing their claims to finish high enough in the table to claim a place in next season's Europa League, the successor to the UEFA Cup.
Hodgson said: "I'm pleased to get to 40 points. It means we can now look forward to the rest of the season.
"We have beaten a good Manchester United side and now we have to show that same kind of form when we face Liverpool and Chelsea in the coming weeks."