Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that his Manchester United team had been “completely dominated” at times during their 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic last night which unexpectedly gave rivals Manchester City a glimmer of hope in the title race.
The United manager admitted that Wigan had "deserved to win" in spite of his criticism of referee Phil Dowd who also controversially disallowed a first-half goal for the home team by Victor Moses. The defeat for United, only their fourth in the league all season, means that the gap to second placed City is now five points with five games left to play.
But there was further intrigue over at the Etihad Stadium where City beat West Bromwich Albion 4-0 with two goals from Sergio Aguero and one each for David Silva and Carlos Tevez, who started the game. City's manager, Roberto Mancini, said that he believed the title race was already over. "I fight always but now I think it's too late," the Italian said, also claiming that he was not even aware that United had been due to play last night.
Mancini, whose team play Norwich away on Saturday lunchtime, also said he did not believe that his team had the same "spirit" as United. Asked whether he was trying to shift the pressure on to United with his own mind games, Mancini said: "No, no, no – I think United have a fantastic spirit, we don't have the same spirit and for this reason I think it is very difficult. I thought they played tomorrow, I only realised after we finished the game that they played [last night]."
Faced with the possibility that City could cut the gap to two points ahead of United's home game against Aston Villa on Saturday, Mancini said: "Yes, for 30 minutes, two hours. I don't believe this [United will lose to Villa].
"I don't know because football is really strange. When you think one thing the opposite can happen. United is a really top team and I don't think they can lose the title."
Ferguson was critical of Dowd for failing to spot a handball in the Wigan penalty area by Maynor Figueroa in the second half. He also said that the corner which led to Shaun Maloney's winning goal should have been a goal-kick. Ferguson said: "Phil Dowd had a bad game and never got to grips with it, but Wigan were the better team and deserved it."
Ferguson added: "With them playing the three centre-backs it gives them a lot of time on the ball. We decided to go against them in the second half and that was better for us but in the first half we were completely dominated. It was one of these off-nights. It is unavoidable sometimes."
Roberto Martinez denied reports that he would be leaving Wigan in the summer and called the result a "historic night" for his club. "I agreed a new deal in the summer," he said. "The most important thing in the next five games is we all give our life to Wigan and make sure we stay in the Premier League."