Sir Alex Ferguson refuses to be downcast after Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat at Everton – but admits his side must beat West Ham on Tuesday.
An excellent recent run, since their fifth defeat of a difficult Premier League campaign at Fulham in December, had taken United to within a point of favourites Chelsea.
But they slumped again on Saturday afternoon, going down 3-1 at Goodison Park despite taking the lead through Dimitar Berbatov.
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With 11 games of the season remaining, it now looks unlikely United will get to the 90-point mark that has tended to be required to clinch the championship in recent times.
Yet Ferguson has already claimed 82 could be enough this year so, as he reflects on a disappointing performance against the Toffees, the Red Devils chief does believe his side can get themselves back in contention by beating West Ham at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
"It was a bad result for us and at this time of the year you can’t afford results like that, but I don’t think we will panic because it has been a funny season," he said
"Teams have been losing points that you don’t expect so the very nature of the league suggests we still have a chance.
"But Tuesday is a massive game now."
Ferguson was at a loss to understand why his side performed so poorly, failing to force Tim Howard into a significant save once Diniyar Bilyaletdinov had levelled just two minutes after Berbatov’s opener.
Although United controlled the game for long spells, Everton were more incisive and it was no real surprise when Dan Gosling bundled the hosts team in front after Steven Pienaar took advantage of Antonio Valencia’s failure to track back and sent over an excellent cross for the youngster.
Jack Rodwell finished United off near the end, leaving Ferguson to wonder whether his side’s midweek efforts in Milan had taken their toll.
"Milan could have had an impact," he said.
"It is difficult to think that when you go through all the emotions and the pace and intensity and atmosphere of a game like Tuesday, you don’t lose something.
"Whatever it was, it was just too much for us today.
"We had some good chances early on and we could have been two or three up.
"The equaliser changed the game a little bit. But it was the second half that let us down.
"Our second-half performance was very poor and when you are going for the championship you expect Manchester United to respond to the importance of the game."
Rio Ferdinand will be available on Tuesday after completing his four-match suspension, while central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic could also come into contention after being named on the bench for today’s encounter.