Title race no longer so black and white


ROY KEANE had Premiership leaders Newcastle in his sights after Manchester United well and truly turned up the title pressure with yesterday's 6-0 demolition of bottom club Bolton at Burnden Park.

Looking ahead to the big showdown with the leaders at St James' Park this day week, Keane said: "It's an important game for both clubs but we really need to go up there and win and we're very confident.

"We beat them at Old Trafford quite comfortably early in the season and we're very confident we can go up there and get three points."

United manager Alex Ferguson refused to see next week's Tyneside head to head as a title decider, even though yesterday's win takes his side to within four points of Kevin Keegan's men.

Ferguson said: "There are a lot of big games coming up and when we go to Newcastle . . . it should be a cracking game.

"I think this is the right time to start playing well and the lads are showing great determination and good team spirit. It will be a very difficult game for both teams. There is going to be a tremendous atmosphere at St James' Park and I'm really looking forward to it."

Reflecting on yesterday's rout of United's neighbours, who are now surely destined for Division One football next season, Ferguson said: "I felt in the first 15 minutes we played very well but maybe got a bit scrappy towards the end of the first half.

"At the beginning of the second half we expected Bolton to come and have a go but once we weathered that and got the third goal the floodgates opened for us. It's a really good result for us.

Ferguson played tribute to inspirational pair Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona. Both were substituted in the second half doubtless with the Newcastle match in the manager's mind.

The Old Trafford manager said: "They were both a bit doubtful before the match and they had done well to play. We weren't taking any chances. Ryan was more serious than Eric and it turned out we'll for us."

"We managed to give Brian McClair and Paul Scholes a good run out, which will do them no harm at all and Paul scored two."

United's margin of victory means their goal difference is only one worse than Newcastle's and Keane admitted: "We didn't expect to get that many before the game." The Republic of Ireland midfielder added: "Two early goals obviously helped. It meant we could relax."

Ferguson and captain Steve Bruce were united in declaring that the Premiership title race is far from over. The United manager said: "It was a pleasure to watch and the team is playing with confidence and so it should. Everyone seems on form and results are coming at the right time."

Ferguson believes that United's experience as championship campaigners over four seasons could be important: "That experience will clearly stand us in good stead. Many of our players have been in this situation before and believe that could prove an advantage.

"Goals are important too - not that I expect it to go down to goals in the end. It will probably be won on points.

"Everyone will be talking about our trip to Newcastle next week and we will go there and attack - that's what we're good at."

Bruce, among the United goalscorers, said: "There is great rivalry between the two clubs and it was satisfying to come here and give them a thumping. Everyone feels the pressure when you're chasing a championship, there is no escaping it.

"But we showed again today that we have got our game together well and confidence is obviously further boosted by a result like this."