LONDON: Ever since the first weeks of the season the near-certainty was that the title run-in would be between champions Manchester United and nouveaux-riches pretenders and neighbours Manchester City.
City have the deeper, more talented, squad but United have matchless experience of this challenge and weekend events – not least City’s failure to win at Stoke – suggested this is starting to have an effect on City’s nerves.
The 1-1 draw, secured only by a late and deflected strike from the magnificent Yaya Toure, edged City back to the top of the table on goal difference. But United can regain their three-point lead, and even wipe away the goal difference, with a decisive victory at home to Martin Jol’s Fulham tomorow/Monday.
Patrick Vieira, former France midfielder who is City’s director of development, had scoffed last week at United’s recall from retirement of veteran Paul Scholes. But United boss Sir Alex Ferguson hit back by claiming that both Vieira’s comments and City’s U-turn over controversial Carlos Tevez were proof of desperation at Eastlands.
Tevez, who would never play for City again according to manager Roberto Mancini last autumn, was welcomed back into the fold to set up the midweek winner against Chelsea but had little impact against Stoke for whom Peter Crouch volleyed the likely ‘goal of the season.’
After the match Mancini, unnerved by Stoke’s usual physical approach, by Robert Huth’s no-nonsense treatment of Mario Balotelli and Howard Webb’s refereeing, refused to shake hands with Stoke boss Tony Pulis or attend the press conference . . . apparently proving Ferguson’s point.
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