MANCHESTER, February 19 – Sir Alex Ferguson insists it is too soon to crown Manchester United asPremier League champions despite watching his side move five points clear of Liverpool with a 3-0 victory over Fulham.
The league leaders, who can open up an eight-point lead with victory over Blackburn on Saturday prior toLiverpool’s Anfield clash with Manchester City on Sunday, cruised past Fulham thanks to goals from Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and fit-again Wayne Rooney on Wednesday.
The win was United’s ninth on the bounce in the league and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar racked up his fourteenth consecutive Premier League clean sheet, taking his shut-out run to 1302 minutes.
But United boss Ferguson admitted that there are still possible pitfalls on the road to an eighteenth league title between now and May.
He said: "You can never be dead sure, but it’s safe to say that Chelsea have an uphill fight now to overcome us. Things can happen, though. We were 12 points clear of Arsenal one season, 1997-98, and we lost the league.
"We had a lot of injuries that year, but hopefully, with the squad we have now, we can cope with injuries. That’s been the change around at the club, we have such a big squad that we can cope with injuries.
"This was our game in hand, though, so it was important and I think the players applied themselves the right way. They worked hard because they had to work hard for the result and I’m pleased with them.
"Paul Scholes was fantastic and some of his switches of play were absolutely devastating. He and Ryan Giggs are a great example to young players in the sense of the way that they live their lives, but they have kept their ambition which is important. We are so delighted and proud to have them here."
Rooney’s goal, three minutes after replacing Berbatov in the second half, was an added bonus for the England player, who had been sidelined since early January with a hamstring injury.
And Ferguson admits that he will not take chances on the fitness of any of his players between now and the end of the season.
He said: "Wayne scored with his first touch. It was a nice ball and he came in late, which he has done many times, but he is back now and I’m pleased. Hopefully he will stay fit now.
"He is 100 per cent, there is no question about that. We are at the stage now where we won’t take risks with any players.
"If they have slight injuries, we won’t play them because if you do and they exacerbate the problem, they can be out for weeks and we don’t want that."
Fulham boss Roy Hodgson saw his team fail once more to claim their first away win of the season, but he admitted that United were simply too strong.
He said: "We wipe our faces on this one and accept the dream of coming here and doing something spectacular remains a dream. We found a United side that had too much in the locker.
"The way we set out our team wasn’t that disastrous – what was, was conceding an early goal that put us on the back foot before we were on the front foot!
"With United in that form, we weren’t going to get anything from them."
Although Ferguson had warned his players not to underestimate Fulham, the prospects of a shock vanished once Scholes had spectacularly opened the scoring after just 12 minutes.
Berbatov got the second from close range in the 30th minute after John O’Shea teed up the former Spurs striker.
Rooney made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute – less than three minutes after climbing off the bench.
Park Ji-Sung’s shot across the face of goal was met by Rooney at the far post and, after springing the offside trap, the England star slotted in his seventh league goal of the season.