Tag Archives: contention

Brendan Rodgers says Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy"s performance was the best he"s ever seen

McCarthy for England: Reading keeper's performance the best ever, says Rodgers

By
Riath Al-samarrai

PUBLISHED:

21:00 GMT, 14 April 2013

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UPDATED:

00:57 GMT, 15 April 2013

At least there is hope, and failing that the prospect of receiving a hefty transfer fee.

Reading looked just about ready for the Championship on Saturday with the exception of a stand-in goalkeeper whose remarkable performance drew statements that were grand even by Brendan Rodgers’ standards.

Initially, the Liverpool manager said Alex McCarthy should be in contention for England; then he went as far as to describe his efforts in the 0-0 draw amounted to the best display of goalkeeping he had ever seen.

Scroll down for highlights from the Madejski…

England contention: Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (right) produced a stunning display between the sticks for the doomed club

England contention: Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (right) produced a stunning display between the sticks for the doomed club

Not many at the Madejski Stadium disagreed. His 10 saves, especially those that stopped Daniel Sturridge in the first half and Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez in the second, looked out of place in a doomed side capable of coughing up so many chances.

Best ever: Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said it was the best goalkeeping performance he'd ever seen

Best ever: Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said it was the best goalkeeping performance he'd ever seen

It’s anyone’s guess what impact he might have made on the club’s season had he not missed the past five months with a shoulder injury sustained when he collided with a goalpost against QPR in November.

None of this would have been a surprise to Rodgers, who oversaw Reading’s youth department and later managed the first team when the 23-year-old was coming through the ranks. He said: ‘Reading have always produced good goalkeepers and Alex is one who is next in line for me, he really is a top goalkeeper.

‘I was aware of him just before I left [as youth coach], and when I came back as manager he was still young. Goalkeepers need that experience so he went out on loan but he was always one that the guys here felt was going to be a top goalkeeper and you saw today that he has all the qualities to succeed.’

Having spent time on loan at Woking, Team Bath and Cambridge United, among other sides like Ipswich and Leeds, McCarthy only got selected after Adam Federici aggravated his ankle injury.

Asked if it was the best goalkeeping performance he had seen, Rodgers added: ‘Yes. I was sat in the changing room with the staff and said I couldn’t remember being at a game where a goalkeeper has made a performance like that, either as a manager, coach or spectator.

Attributes: Rodgers, who managed McCarthy when he was Reading boss, says the goalkeeper has all the tools to be one of the best

Attributes: Rodgers, who managed McCarthy when he was Reading boss, says the goalkeeper has all the tools to be one of the best

‘Normally goalkeepers make one or two saves that make a difference, but he made an incredible number of saves and when he was beat it was cleared off the line. It was a brilliant goalkeeping performance.’

Reading manager Nigel Adkins said: ‘We have some excellent goalkeepers. We have Stuart Taylor, Adam Federici, Alex McCarthy, Mikkel Anderson.

‘They are out there and have good competition for places which is important. Alex had been out for a long time, but had the opportunity and made some great saves. Now we have to ensure there is a consistency in his game.’

Frustrated: Liverpool had to settle for a second successive goalless draw

Frustrated: Liverpool had to settle for a second successive goalless draw

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Texas Open – PGA Tour: Rory McIlroy shoots five-under second round to move two shots behind the lead

Rory's back in the groove! McIlroy shoots five-under second round to close in on Texas lead

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

23:55 GMT, 5 April 2013

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UPDATED:

00:06 GMT, 6 April 2013

LIVE LEADERBOARD

Click HERE for the latest scores from the Texas Open in San Antonio

Rory McIlroy allayed fears about the state of his game by storming into contention at the Valero Texas Open.

With the Masters just days away, the world No 2 shot a five-under-par 67 to follow his even-par opening round, and move three behind leader Billy Horschel in San Antonio.

The Northern Irishman was a late entry for this tournament as he desperately sought to play himself into form for Augusta, and by the looks of today's performance he has done precisely that.

Strong showing: Rory McIlroy carded a five-under round of 67 to finish three shots off the lead in San Antonio

Strong showing: Rory McIlroy carded a five-under round of 67 to finish three shots off the lead in San Antonio

Improvement: McIlroy started the day at level par after his opening round 72

Improvement: McIlroy started the day at level par after his opening round 72

He finished off with birdies at 16, 17 and 18 to make an already good round a quite excellent one, tying with Charley Hoffman and KJ Choi for the lowest score of the day.

McIlroy had a 25-foot eagle putt at the last to go into a share of the lead, and he put it close, but he would have settled for five under at the start of the round and made sure of that by tapping in from inside a foot.

Charley Hoffman, Daniel Summerhays and Steven Bowditch were in the clubhouse on six under, before back-to-back birdies from Horschel moved him two clear at eight-under.

In his stride: McIlroy entered at late notice

In his stride: McIlroy entered at late notice

Leader: Billy Horschel moved to eight-under-par

Leader: Billy Horschel moved to eight-under-par

Meanwhile, Ian Poulter’s attempt to use the Valero Texas Open to help get ready for the Masters threatened to leave him even more short of confidence instead.

Europe’s Ryder Cup hero, who has slipped outside the world top 10, went almost immediately to the driving range to do more work after his second round 75 left him one over for the tournament, just inside the cut.

Poulter tweeted: ‘On the range giving myself a talking to. I was utter dog meat today. Absolutely disgraceful off the tee. But I can still win. No mistakes.’

Struggle: Ian Poulter carded a round of 75 to end day two one-over-par

Struggle: Ian Poulter carded a round of 75 to end day two one-over-par

Struggle: Ian Poulter carded a round of 75 to end day two one-over-par

Later he added: ‘I hit two out of 14
fairways. That’s just simply s***. I’m so mad it’s crazy. Just hit 100
drives on the range and sorted it.’

He drove into the rough at the first hole and missed two short putts, then it got worse as he double-bogeyed the second.

D.A. Points wins the Shell Houston Open

DA Points wins Shell Houston Open to book his place at the Masters

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

01:00 GMT, 1 April 2013

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UPDATED:

02:12 GMT, 1 April 2013

DA Points found form out of nowhere to claim victory at the Shell Houston Open by a shot and book his place at the Masters.

Points had missed three cuts in a row and seven of his last nine heading into the Texas event, but hit his stride straight away, claiming the lead after the first round.

And he stayed in contention throughout the week, carding a six-under-par 66 today, inclduing a pressure putt on the 18th, to hold off Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel and win by one stroke on 16 under.

All smiles: points celebrates with his hard-earned trophy

All smiles: points celebrates with his hard-earned trophy

'It's been a realy tough year, a tough
start,' he said. 'To have a putt to win – you want that starting out
every week. I would have liked it to be a little closer, but I've been
putting really well.'

Points came out on top after a
dramatic day, which saw a host of players move in and out of contention
and was extended because of a rain delay late on.

Stewart Cink and Bill Haas went into the day as joint leaders, but neither in the end was a serious contender.

Haas dropped two shots on the front
nine and in the end finished level par for his final round, while Cink
could muster only three birdies. An eagle on the last would have seen
him into a play-off with Points, but he found sand and ended up with a
bogey to sit in a share of sixth on 13 under.

Among the other contenders, Stenson
and Horschel hit contrasting 66s and were left to see if Points would
slip up on the final hole.

Weather delay: Bad weather delayed play on the final day

Weather delay: Bad weather delayed play on the final day

Weather delay: Bad weather delayed play on the final day

Stenson needed four birdies in his
last five holes to hit the mark, while Horschel could not find the shot
he needed at the back end of the course, parring each of the last five
holes.

The good news for Stenson was that his
performance was enough to earn him a place in the world's top 50 and an
invitation to the Masters.

Adding to the drama was a near
three-hour delay in play, with only a handful of players still out on
course and Stenson the clubhouse leader, caused by a downpour in
Houston.

Points held his nerve, though, saving
par on each of his last two holes using a putter he revealed earlier in
the week was one he had taken from his mother when he was younger and
had refurbished this week in an attempt to improve his play on the
greens.

Happy days: D.A. Points celebrates winning the Shell Houston Open

Happy days: D.A. Points celebrates winning the Shell Houston Open

Get in the hole: D.A. Points celebrates his par putt on the 18th green

Get in the hole: D.A. Points celebrates his par putt on the 18th green

'I was firing on all cycliners,' he said. 'I'm proud of myself that the rain delay didn't put a stop to that.'

Dustin Johnson produced the round of
the day, a seven-under 65, to finish in a share of fourth on 14 under,
alongside Ben Crane, while a 67 saw Brian Davis finish as the leading
Briton on 13 under, two strokes aherad of compatriot Lee Westwood.

Rory McIlroy managed a third straight under-par round to finish four under overall.

He told www.pgatour.com: '[There are]
lot of positives to take from it. I've learned a few things as well that
I can bring into next week and obviously looking ahead to Augusta, too.

'It's been a productive week.'

Steven Finn takes six wickets but hails Matt Prior"s contribution

Prior's flying high: Finn takes six wickets but hails the contribution of England's renaissance man

By
Peter Hayter

PUBLISHED:

18:48 GMT, 23 March 2013

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UPDATED:

18:50 GMT, 23 March 2013

Steven Finn celebrated his second six-wicket haul for England by thanking the man who pulled one of them out of the clear blue Auckland sky.

Finn bowled his side back into contention on day two of the third and deciding Test against New Zealand with 6-125 as England responded to conceding 250-1 on the first day after inviting the hosts to bat by bowling them out for 443.

Struggling in the first two Tests to groove a new action necessitated by his habit of kicking the stumps in delivery, Finn produced his fourth five-for in Test cricket and the first since he recorded exactly the same figures against Australia in the opening Test of the 2010-11 Ashes series in Brisbane.

But a measure of the contribution to his success of Matt Prior was that Finn nominated his catch to dismiss Peter Fulton as the highlight of his day, a superb effort down the legside that underlined the England wicketkeeper’s status as the best gloveman in world cricket.

In full flight: Peter Fulton flicks Steven Finn's delivery down the legside, Matt Prior takes off and holds a remarkable catch

In full flight: Peter Fulton flicks Steven Finn's delivery down the legside, Matt Prior takes off and holds a remarkable catch

Finn had called for England to have a crazy hour in the field after their failure to make inroads on day one. But all they got at first was Fulton grinding on where he left off the previous evening, blocking the living daylights out of it from his overnight 124 with 12 runs in 69 balls spanning a seemingly endless hour and three-quarters.

Yet ‘Two-metre Peter’ probably thought he had collected four more when he glanced an innocuous legside delivery from Finn towards the fine leg boundary, only for its passage to the rope to be breathtakingly interrupted.

Diving full length to his left, Prior threw out a glove and caught the ball one-handed after it had already passed him, then twisted in mid-air to ensure he avoided spilling the ball when he landed.

Even Fulton seemed suitably impressed, pausing momentarily to admire a catch which, for sheer impact, was on a par with Andrew Strauss’s effort to dismiss Adam Gilchrist in the Trent Bridge Test of the 2005 Ashes and Paul Collingwood’s amazing take at slip to get rid of Ricky Ponting on England’s last trip Down Under.

Prior went on to complete his own ‘five-for’ in the innings, three off Finn, one of the two wickets James Anderson took to draw level with Derek Underwood on 297 Test dismissals and a second outstanding catch, standing up to the stumps, to snaffle a thin outside edge to do for the dangerous Brendon McCullum off Jonathan Trott, an example of Alastair Cook’s inspired captaincy or a fluke, depending on your preference.

All smiles: Steven Finn celebrates with teammates Stuart Broad, Jonathan Trott and Prior after dismissing Trent Boult

All smiles: Steven Finn celebrates with teammates Stuart Broad, Jonathan Trott and Prior after dismissing Trent Boult

As Finn said: ‘It’s nice to know he can leap like a salmon down the legside and catch a couple of those. To have him behind the stumps is fantastic.’

It is all a far cry from where Prior found himself the last time England toured here dropped after a controversial start to his Test career in 2007 as the successor to Geraint Jones.

Despite becoming the first England keeper to score a century on Test debut, against West Indies at Lord’s, the Sussex man won more critics than admirers for clumsy glovework and a perception grew he put his mouth where his mitts should be too often. It was no surprise when he lost his place to Tim Ambrose after a terrible tour to Sri Lanka, in which at times he looked no better than a part-timer behind the stumps.

Anderson is no doubt, however, of how good the keeper who reinvented himself has become.

‘The legside take off Finny was one of the best wicketkeeping catches you will see,’ he said. ‘It had been a long couple of days and the legs start to get tired, so to see someone do that gives everyone a rush.

‘Matt is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world. I can’t honestly think of anyone who comes close but the fact is he wasn’t in the side when we were here last and that made him change his whole approach to the job.

Prize wicket: Prior holds on to dismiss Brendon McCullum

Prize wicket: Prior holds on to dismiss Brendon McCullum

‘At first he thought of himself as a batsman who could get by with the gloves on athleticism and eye, but he realised there was more to it. He worked tirelessly with Bruce French [the former England keeper and now their wicketkeeping coach] and is reaping the rewards.

‘He is the first out on the field doing his drills every day, will practise taking all sorts of catches one-handed, like this one he took, for hours and hours, and the way he manages to maintain his concentration hour after hour when one slip can make all the difference is impressive.

‘And he fulfils all the criteria for a genuine all-rounder because, not only is he clearly worth his place as a keeper, he could easily bat at No 6 on merit as well.’

The best wicketkeepers, they say, are the ones whose work you hardly notice. In Auckland Prior disproved the rule.

Volta a Catalunya: Sir Bradley Wiggins in third place

Wiggins third overall and well in contention at Volta a Catalunya after stage three

PUBLISHED:

19:38 GMT, 20 March 2013

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UPDATED:

19:38 GMT, 20 March 2013

Team Sky's Sir Bradley Wiggins climbed to third place at the Volta a Catalunya after stage three's summit finish.

The 2012 Tour de France champion put in a late spurt on the ascent to the ski resort at Vallter 2000-Setcases at the end of the 180-kilometre route from Vidreres, but finished fourth as Colombia's Nairo Quintana (Movistar) claimed the day's honours.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) moved into the race lead by finishing second, and he is six seconds ahead of nearest challenger Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who was third today, and 10 clear of Wiggins in the overall classification.

In contention: Wiggins finished fourth in stage three at Volta a Catalunya

In contention: Wiggins finished fourth in stage three at Volta a Catalunya

Gus Poyet in contention for Reading job

Poyet in contention for Reading job as they eye new boss for Premier League survival bid

By
Sam Cunningham

PUBLISHED:

19:24 GMT, 12 March 2013

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UPDATED:

20:32 GMT, 12 March 2013

Gus Poyet has emerged as a contender for the vacant manager job at Reading following Brian McDermott's sacking.

The Brighton boss is chasing a Championship play-off spot and Reading would only be keen on a move for the Uruguayan if they could agree a financial deal to bring him to the club swiftly, as they look for someone to keep them in the Premier League.

A source close to Poyet said he would be keen on a move closer to London but added he is happy at Brighton and would only consider taking the job if he was part of a long-term project.

Contender: Gus Poyet is keen on the Reading job

Contender: Gus Poyet is keen on the Reading job

McDermott has left the country with a friend to reflect on the last couple of days after he was left devastated by the decision to sack him.

Paolo Di Canio was installed as an early bookies favourite and is known to want the post and the chance to manage a Premier League club. Roberto Di Matteo is also a candidate, but sources close to the former Chelsea manager say he is not interested.

And Nigel Adkins, who is not currently in charge at a club after he was sacked by Southampton, is under consideration.

Roberto Di Matte

Paolo Di Canio

An Italian's job Roberto Di Matteo is understood not to be keen on the job but Paolo Di Canio is

Reading announced yesterday that owner Anton Zingarevich said it was the 'hardest decision of his life' to sack McDermott but that 'he and Brian remain on good terms after meeting in person on Monday.'

Zingarevich and Eamonn Dolan, head of the club's academy who has been brought in as caretaker manager, met with first team players and staff at their Hogwood Park training ground yesterday.

End of the road: Brian McDermott was sacked by Reading on Monday

End of the road: Brian McDermott was sacked by Reading on Monday

Dolan also held a series of meetings throughout the day ahead of their Premier League match against Manchester United on Saturday, where he is expected to take charge. First team coaches Nigel Gibbs and Yannis Anastasiou have also both left the club.

Following the game against United there is a two-week gap before their next fixture away to Arsenal, and Reading are yet to formally approach any potential candidates.

Luke Donald two shots behind leaders at the halfway stage of the Northern Trust Open

Donald remains in the hunt in California after rising to fifth at halfway stage of Northern Trust Open

By
Steven Donaldson

PUBLISHED:

07:22 GMT, 16 February 2013

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UPDATED:

11:27 GMT, 16 February 2013

World No 3 Luke Donald put himself firmly in contention as Bae Sang-moon and Fredrik Jacobson shared the lead at the halfway stage of the Northern Trust Open in California.

England's Donald, playing his first tournament since November, produced a five-under 66 to sit seven under overall, two off the leading pair of South Korea's Bae and Sweden's Jacobson on nine under.

Donald, 18th overnight, carded seven birdies against two bogeys to end day two fifth – and he could have been in a share of third alongside Americans John Merrick and John Rollins but for a dropped shot on his penultimate hole, the par-four eighth.

Climbing the leaderboard: Luke Donald hit five under par to rise to seventh

Climbing the leaderboard: Luke Donald hit five under par to rise to seventh

NORTHERN TRUST OPEN

Click here for the latest leaderboard

Donald told www.pgatour.com: 'Happy with my score, obviously coming off a pretty good break, you never know with how you're going to deal with being back in competition again but certainly a big improvement today, ball striking wise and my short game has been very sharp.

'I've been excited about that. It's been a big key to my score so far, and, yeah, excited to be in the mix again.'

On the top of the pile though were Jacobson and Bae, both of whom were six under for the day to climb from sixth to joint first.

Surveying the scene: Donald and his caddie John McLaren walks up to the sixth green

Surveying the scene: Donald and his caddie John McLaren walks up to the sixth green

For Jacobson it was a continuation of the form which saw him finish seventh at Pebble Beach last week.

'Obviously I take a lot out of that, just being in contention again,' Jacobson said. 'I've had some good practice sessions before, but to bring it on the course and play under pressure, that's what it's about.'

There was no room to relax, though, with a number of notable names on the heels of the top five.

Leading the way: Fredrik Jacobson shares the lead at the halfway stage

Leading the way: Fredrik Jacobson shares the lead at the halfway stage

World No 8 Lee Westwood headed up a group of three players on six under, which also included major winners Charl Schwartzel and Webb Simpson.

Overnight leader Matt Kuchar was among the players on five under having carded a two-over 73, as was defending champion Bill Haas, while Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were all four under.

Out in front: Sang-Moon Bae is going well in California

Out in front: Sang-Moon Bae is going well in California

Among the remainder of the British contingent, Brian Davis (three under), Greg Owen (two under), David Lynn (one under) and Ross Fisher (one over) all made the cut, but Martin Laird and Graeme McDowell missed out.

Other big names to miss the cut included Dustin Johnson, Padraig Harrington, Mike Weir, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Bubba Watson and Lucas Glover.

Golf: Richard Sterne and Trevor Fischer Jnr are tied for the lead at the Johannesburg open

South African duo Sterne and Fischer Jnr tied for the lead in Johannesburg

PUBLISHED:

17:26 GMT, 8 February 2013

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UPDATED:

17:26 GMT, 8 February 2013

South Africa's Richard Sterne and Trevor Fisher Jnr are tied for the lead at the halfway stage of the Joburg Open, three shots clear of the chasing pack.

Sterne followed up his opening-day 63 with another blemish-free round of 65 today on the east course to join early leader Fisher Jnr on 15 under par for the tournament.

Fisher Jnr had looked set to take a comfortable lead into the third day after he shot a blistering 62 on the west course, just one stroke outside Charl Schwartzel's course record.

Faultless: Richard Sterne followed up his opening day 63 with a high quality 65

Faultless: Richard Sterne followed up his opening day 63 with a high quality 65

Faultless: Richard Sterne followed up his opening day 63 with a high quality 65

However, Sterne, who was runner-up to Stephen Gallacher in the Dubai Classic last week, continued his good run of form to stay in contention for his sixth European Tour title at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Course.

A birdie on the opening hole and gains at the fourth and seventh saw him quickly close ground on his compatriot before an eight-foot putt at the ninth saw him claim an outward score of 33.

Sterne then added birdies on three of the last four holes which saw him catch up with Fisher Jnr and repeat his effort from the opening day of finishing the round joint top.

'I did the right things and putted well. It's nice to not be behind going into the weekend,' Sterne told europeantour.com.

Man on a mission: Trevor Fisher Jnr shot a round of 62 to climb to the top of the leader-board

Man on a mission: Trevor Fisher Jnr shot a round of 62 to climb to the top of the leader-board

'It won't be easy on the weekend. The players that are five or six back can catch us as well. Charl's there, George (Coetzee) is due a win, so it's a long way from over.'

Fisher Jnr, who was named Sunshine Tour Players' Player of the Year two days ago, shot an eagle and seven birdies on the way to a nine-under-par round of 62 on day two.

'It was a great day out there,' Fisher Jnr said. 'Everything just happened for me and I sank the putts I needed to sink.

On song: Fisher Jnr shot an eagle and seven birdies

On song: Fisher Jnr shot an eagle and seven birdies

On song: Fisher Jnr shot an eagle and seven birdies

'I was happy and patient with myself – walked slow and did everything slow – and it was just a good day.'

Coetzee completed the all-South African top three on 12 under par while home favourite Schwartzel fired 65 on the west course to tie for fourth place alongside compatriot Keith Horne and Felipe Aguilar of Chile.

And Schwartzel was not surprised with Fisher Jnr's strong performance so far in the tournament.
He said: 'We played foursomes for South Africa Under-23s – I know how good he can be.'

England's Tommy Fleetwood finished on nine under par for the first two rounds after he carded 66 today to lie in a four-way tie for seventh while Scotland's David Drysdale and England's Richard Finch were another shot back in a cluster of nine players.

Ryan Giggs warns Manchester United to forget big Premier League title lead

Don't blow it again! Giggs warns United to forget big title lead and learn lesson from last season

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UPDATED:

15:41 GMT, 31 December 2012

Ryan Giggs is refusing to get carried away by Manchester United's seven-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

United head to Wigan tomorrow having taken 37 points from a possible 42 since they were beaten by Tottenham at Old Trafford at the end of September.

Manchester City and Chelsea performed well over the weekend but there is nothing either of them can do to prevent United securing a record 20th title if Sir Alex Ferguson's men maintain their present form.

Top of the pile: Manchester United currently enjoy a big Premier League lead

Top of the pile: Manchester United currently enjoy a big Premier League lead

But Giggs, a veteran of all 12 Premier League championship triumphs, acknowledges it is far too early to start thinking the job is done.

The Welshman only needs to look back a matter of months, when the Red Devils blew an eight-point lead in the space of four games to lose out to City in the 2011-12 title race, to know nothing can be taken for granted.

'We were this many points ahead with fewer games to go last season and it wasn't enough,' said Giggs. 'We are only halfway there and there are a lot of tough games to come.

'There is also the FA Cup and the Champions League, so there are other things to consider.

'We are in a great position and are happy where we are, but we know we have to carry on.'

However, Giggs does concur with his manager, who has always felt United would be in contention if they reached New Year's Day within striking distance of top spot.

Agony: United reflect on their title race defeat by Manchester City last season

Agony: United reflect on their title race defeat by Manchester City last season

Agony: United reflect on their title race defeat by Manchester City last season

Agony: United reflect on their title race defeat by Manchester City last season

This time, Ferguson can spend his 71st birthday peering down on the rest, with many pundits already declaring it is United's title to lose.

'From the manager's experience and the players who have been here a long time, we know Christmas is the time to get down to business,' said the 39-year-old.

'If we are there or thereabouts in January and then go on a run of winning 10 or 12 games it is going to give us a great chance.

'There can be no mistakes. But usually when the stakes are high and the concentration is there, good players produce the goods.'

It was not the case last season though.

The start of the unravelling process can be traced to a trip to Wigan, a side United had beaten every time they had met up to that point.

Inexplicably, Ferguson's team were caught cold, found themselves unable to cope with Wigan's three-man defensive formation and slipped to a deserved defeat.

It was part of a staggering run from the Latics, which took them clear of relegation trouble when at one point they had seemed certain for the drop.
Their form was so good Giggs was not expecting to find them back in the mire this term.

'I'm surprised that they're down there considering the tough game they gave us last season,' he said. 'They play with a different system to the ones we are used to and do it very well.

'We knew they were in a false position going into that game and when you don't turn up against a team in good form you will come unstuck, no matter who you are against.

'It was tough, especially when you consider our record there and it undoubtedly contributed to us losing the title.'

Ferguson is expected to make a number of changes given the draining conditions his players encountered at Old Trafford during Saturday's win over West Brom.

Michael Carrick looked particularly tired, whilst Robin van Persie's 17th goal of the season should ensure his recall at a time of year when freak results are almost commonplace.

'When you have got four games in nine days you are going to get different results and things can change quite quickly,' said Ferguson.

'The most important thing is not to panic and look after your own results and performances.'

Premier League Tottenham, Chelsea and Fulham set to bid for Derby"s Will Hughes

Spurs, Chelsea and Fulham set to bid for Derby's 10m teenager Hughes

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UPDATED:

11:04 GMT, 24 December 2012

Derby face a struggle to keep hold of Will Hughes after a series of fine performances caught the attention of Premier League Tottenham, Chelsea and Fulham.

The teenage midfielder is set to attract bids as soon as the January transfer window opens and with a fee of 10m thought to be enough to persuade Derby's American owners to sell – 6m plus add-ons would also be considered – the greatest question could surround whether he is to remain in the Championship until the season's end.

As Tottenham have done in the past, their interest surrounds buying a promising individual while their value remains competitive but it should not be overlooked that central midfield is an area in which they are already heavily stocked.

Tottenham, Chelsea and Fulham target Will Hughes

Vultures circling: The talented Hughes is interesting Tottenham, Chelsea and Fulham

Chelsea also have a high competition for places which means that any potential move to those two would most likely result in him being loaned back to Derby for the rest of the season. Fulham, however, already consider him ready to challenge for a first-team place but are ultimately at risk of being outbid by their London rivals.

The January transfer window could come to define Derby's season. Manager Nigel Clough has led them to play-off contention but with right-back John Brayford attracting the interest of both Cardiff and West Ham, and the former on the verge of agreeing a fee with the Rams, his exit also appears likely.

Pulling his weight: Hughes is thought of as one of the Championship's greatest players

Pulling his weight: Hughes is thought of as one of the Championship's greatest talents