United ready for new year title charge

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MANCHESTER — Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United will be ideally placed to retain their Premier League title if they reach New Year’s Day alongside Manchester City at the top of the table.

Ferguson, who turns 70 on New Year’s Eve when his team entertain struggling Blackburn, saw United draw level with City on points after an emphatic 5-0 victory over Wigan at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

Now, following consecutive 5-0 victories, all that separates United from the current league leaders are five goals in the goal difference column – the margin of defeat which United suffered at the hands of City in their historic 6-1 home loss to Roberto Mancini’s side in October.

“As I say, it’s a long season,” said Ferguson. “If we get to New Year’s Day top, or joint top with City, then I will be happy.

“But the injuries are mounting up for us now — Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were ill, Rio Ferdinand called off with a back injury and Jonny Evans came off injured.”

Those injuries will severely test United with Ferguson confirming a calf strain will keep Evans on the sidelines for two weeks.

A single point against Blackburn will take United to solitary ownership of first place at the top of the table and place intense pressure on City, who visit Sunderland 24 hours later on New Year’s Day.

However, for all their defensive injury concerns, there is no doubt United seem to have found the answer to their goalscoring problems with Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov, starting just his second league game of the season, claiming a hat-trick against Wigan.

Berbatov, joint leading scorer in the Premier League last season with City’s Carlos Tevez, now has four goals to his name this term and Ferguson said: “It was the right game for him.”

United were also aided, in small part, by referee Phil Dowd who harshly dismissed the Wigan forward Conor Sammon after 38 minutes, with the score 1-0, when he caught defender Carrick in the face with a flailing arm, and even Ferguson leaped to his opponent’s defence.

Wigan, who also conceded goals to Park Ji-Sung and Antonio Valencia, were justifiably furious with the performance of referee Dowd, who also handed Berbatov his hat-trick goal from the penalty spot after awarding a spot-kick for Antolin Alcaraz’s trip on Park even though the offence appeared to take place outside the area.

English Premiership results:

Chelsea 1 Fulham 1, Liverpool 1 Blackburn 1, Manchester Utd 5 Wigan 0, Sunderland 1 Everton 1, West Brom 0 Manchester City 0, Bolton 0 Newcastle 2, Stoke 0 Aston Villa 0