Belfast Telegraph

Ferguson tells Manchester United to focus

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his Manchester United players to dismiss the critics and concentrate on reclaiming the Premier League title.

United extended their unbeaten run to 20 matches this season and opened up a three point lead over nearest challengers Manchester City and Arsenal thanks to a 2-1 win over Stoke at Old Trafford tonight.

Yet even two excellent goals from Javier Hernandez and Nani left many feeling underwhelmed at the general performance of the team.

Not that Ferguson is bothered. He feels the best answer is for United to carry on as they are.

"We are an easy target for that kind of thing," he said.

"But we just have to dismiss it and concentrate on our ambitions and that is to win the league."

Opposite number Tony Pulis offered a more expansive summary after watching his team be undone by the same scoreline for the second time this season, on each occasion leaving the Stoke boss with a feeling of "what if".

"They know how to win," he said. "It is a mentality that runs through the club.

"You can get used to winning and used to losing but this is almost something ingrained.

"It gives them that edge and will stand them in good stead this season because they will have a run when things don't go so well."

No one could quibble about the quality of United's goals.

Hernandez struck for the ninth time in his debut campaign, meeting Nani's low cross with a deft back-flick that took it past Asmir Begovic.

Then, after Dean Whitehead had nodded home a shock leveller five minutes into the second period, Nani clinched the points, curling home in sublime fashion after the Portugal winger had been given too much time to turn on the edge of the area.

From Hernandez in particular, it was the perfect response after the Mexican was given his chance whilst Wayne Rooney rests the ankle injury that he suffered at West Brom on Saturday.

"Of course it gives me a problem when Wayne is fit," said Ferguson.

"But that is the kind of problem you want. Over the years, the strikers I have had have always given me that problem.

"That is Chico's job. And as long as he keeps putting the ball in the net, he is giving me those problems."

Ferguson is hopeful of having two of Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar available for the FA Cup tie with Liverpool on Sunday.

The England skipper should be amongst them given he claimed to have been rested on his Twitter page prior to kick-off.

However, his replacement, Chris Smalling, earned warm praise from Ferguson on his first Premier League start.

"You have to have faith and trust in the players," said Ferguson.

"They have earned that trust. I see them every day in training and in the games they have played in. They have never let me down.

"And Chris Smalling was excellent. At 20 years of age he is doing very well.

"I am pleased with his improvement. He is certainly the future of the club."

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