Belfast Telegraph

Ferguson: It's advantage Manchester City now

By Martin Hardy

Sir Alex Ferguson assessed the potential wreckage of the new year period and conceded it is now advantage Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title.

His out-of-sorts side followed up their New Year's Eve defeat at home against bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers with a comprehensive 3-0 reverse at Newcastle United last night.

Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and a Phil Jones own goal condemned Manchester United to back-to-back defeats and thus leave Robert Mancini's side three points clear at the top of the table.

"Oh yes of course it is advantage Manchester City," said Ferguson. "We had our opportunity. We were playing tonight and they played last night. They won theirs and we didn't. It is advantage to them.

"It is back-to-back defeats but we don't normally have that. Obviously the one big plus for me is we have two or three players back tonight and hopefully we have one or two more back. That will make a difference.

"It is not a case of panicking," he added. "We have the experience to deal with it. This time of year you don't want it but sometimes it can happen. We didn't make enough of our possession anyway.

"Obviously we want to get the show on the road in terms of the run-in, March and April in particular. We started reasonably well and had a good chance and Wayne Rooney went through and got the ball stuck under his foot.

"They scored a fantastic goal [from Ba] and that really picked everyone up in the stadium, their support got up, they got right aggressive and into us and made it difficult for us.

"The second one was a killer, it was marvellous strike from the free-kick [by Cabaye]. They're very strong lads, big aggressive lads, Phil Jones is only 19. They didn't really tear us apart but they were a handful. The story of the game is that they had two fantastic strikes, you have to give them credit. They were really determined."

Yet it was another night where more questions emerged about Ferguson's men, not least the reaction of Rooney to his omission on Saturday against Blackburn, where he did not make the starting 16 because of his performance in training.

For 75 minutes, before he was substituted, Rooney did little to rally his side at a crucial period in the season. On a night when the striker was expected to make a statement of intent, his gentle hand slap with Ferguson as he was withdrawn said everything.

Rio Ferdinand and Jones could do nothing to control the Newcastle forward pairing of Ba and Shola Ameobi and at the heart of midfield Cheick Tioté and Cabaye dominated to give the home side a platform for their first victory against Manchester United in a decade.

Ferguson had even dropped the Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea, but conceded there was nothing his replacement Anders Lindegaard could have done to prevent any of the three goals. Instead he must pick his players up ahead of their FA Cup derby at City on Sunday.

For Newcastle, the victory moves them back onto the tails of the top six, and their manager Alan Pardew said: "The players deserve a lot of plaudits tonight because they put in some fantastic performances. You could highlight one or two that were exceptional but as the team manager I am just proud of all of them. My job is to make sure we don't get too carried away with that.

"Outside his goal, which was top-class, Demba's performance was outstanding. He picked it up in the whole, he went in behind, he was aggressive in the air. It was as good a performance as he has put in. His biggest asset is his personality. He is a winner. His all-round play has been excellent. He was a leader for the team. This year you have to put him in the top four or five in the League.

"We have got a great sponsor [Virgin Money] who have put good money into the football club. The board will have seen tonight we have very good players here and we want to build on that. Tonight puts a cherry on the cake in terms of this season."

Belfast Telegraph


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