Man Utd 'hopeful' injured trio return next week
Sir Alex Ferguson has already pinpointed the Manchester derby in April as the cornerstone of his team's current attempt to regain their Premier League title.
A 2-0 victory over Stoke, courtesy of penalties from Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov, coupled with leaders Manchester City losing at Everton, helped United draw level on points, and within six goals of their rivals, at the top of the table.
In a campaign that has already produced so many twists and turns, the latest development merely adds to the intriguing plot.
With Ferguson expecting to welcome back the injured trio of Wayne Rooney, Nani and Ashley Young for Sunday's visit to Chelsea, the veteran manager is clearly happy with the current status quo.
"The win is obviously significant, but it's still the last day in January," said Ferguson. "I always see March as the important month and we've got City in April.
"We are hopeful Wayne and Nani and Ashley Young might be back for Sunday.
"It's been a good night. But I'm more pleased about our own performance.
"I thought it was terrific, we kept our composure and were very patient. Okay, we won with two penalties, but the manner in which we played our football was the main thing."
Fate appeared to be conspiring against United as injuries to Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea forced Ferguson into handing a league debut to 21-year-old deputy Ben Amos who was rarely troubled by a disappointing Stoke side.
"Anders got injured in training and David got injured at the end of training so we had a right nightmare," added Ferguson. "Ben didn't have a lot to do but he was confident, composed, so we're pleased with that."
A productive evening for United also included Hernandez's return to form and, after a gap of two months, goalscoring as he claimed his seventh goal of the season with his first half penalty.
With Rooney having missed four of his last eight attempts from the spot, United now seem to have an embarrassment of riches in that department although the manager has told Rooney he is permitted to keep taking kicks as long as he wants to.
"It was a very good penalty, but he takes them for Mexico so it wasn't a problem," said Ferguson of Hernandez.
"Dimitar thought he was going to take the first one so he took the second one and he scored too so we're pleased with that.
"Javier did very well tonight. His form has come back in the last few weeks and he's been training very well. It's just a case of getting him the opportunity because Danny Welbeck has been playing so well."
Ferguson also broke his silence over talented youngster Ravel Morrison who joined West Ham on deadline day in a reported £1 million transfer following some high-profile off-field problems at United.
"In the case of Ravel it's been quite well documented, I think he's better out of Manchester," said Ferguson.
"He's got a great talent but how to deal with that is important."
Meanwhile, the Stoke manager Tony Pulis looked ahead to the tightest of title contests but clearly believes United's experience could be the telling factor.
"I think it's very open," said Pulis. "Tottenham are still in it, hanging on their coat tails hoping they will drop points and Alex will be the same.
"But the one thing United have got over them is they've done it before and usually get stronger after Christmas.
"I think it's fantastic having three top sides going for it and I'm very pleased to see Tottenham there. It's nice to see a team from down south!"
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