BIRMINGHAM, England, December 29- Sir Alex Ferguson did his best to dispel any doubts about Manchester United's challenge for the Premier League title by insisting his side were on course for glory despite dropping points in a 1-1 draw away to Birmingham.
United, still unbeaten in the league this season, were set for victory after Dimitar Berbatov’s sublime goal gave them the lead just before the hour mark at St Andrew’s here on Tuesday.
But Lee Bowyer’s controversial 89th minute equaliser denied United the full three points and left them top on goal difference alone from Manchester City, although Ferguson’s men do have two games in hand over their local rivals.
Ferguson is desperate to regain the title from stuttering champions Chelsea and he will enter the New Year with United in the place which he feels sends out danger signals to all those jostling for position behind the Red Devils.
"I think we’ve a chance with the title," United manager Ferguson said ahead of his side’s return to the Midlands to play West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
"At this moment in time there are five or six teams who are all contesting that area.
"I always say if you get to New Year in first position, Manchester United have a big chance then."
Meanwhile Ferguson could not resist a dig at Arsenal — who are next up at St Andrew’s.
The Scot has never been one to shy away from confrontation with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger and he could not resist planting a seed of doubt in the minds of a side the Frenchman believes can no longer be bullied, after their impressive 3-1 win over Chelsea on Monday.
"Birmingham is a difficult place to come and every team that comes here has a tough game. The ball is in the air a lot and they set their stall out.
"It is a tough place to play. It is a tight pitch. A lively pitch and you only have to see the results they have had at St Andrew’s over the years."
Ferguson made clear his displeasure with referee Lee Mason for costing United a two-point cushion for failing to spot a handball by Birmingham substitute Nikola Zigic in the build up to Bowyer’s leveller.
"It was handball and a foul," he said. "He went straight through the centre half. If the referee can’t see that what chance have you got?" said Ferguson.
"You would expect in a game of this importance they (the officials) would see that. If they can’t what hope have you got?
"I have no complaints with my team. They fought hard and worked hard after only two days’ rest."
Ferguson mentored Birmingham boss Alex McLeish during the pair’s time together at Aberdeen and the pupil believes his former manager’s current side remain the team to beat in the Premier League.
"Chelsea are a wee bit off at the moment and you would have to say that United are favourites, maybe with Arsenal," McLeish said.
"We say that at different stages of the season and then we get some more strange results.
"United’s recent form has been great and I saw them at Sunderland and they were excellent. So I feared the worst when they were playing us next."
Bowyer’s goal took Birmingham out of the bottom three but they are just a point above the relegation zone.
McLeish has talks planned with the Blues’ Hong Kong-based owner Carson Yeung and he wants to clarify whether the Midlands club have the funds to try to persuade Robbie Keane to join their battle against the drop during the January transfer window.
The Republic of Ireland forward is available after being told he can leave Tottenham Hotspur and Keane could be the man to boost Birmingham’s flagging goal tally.
"We are struggling because we do not score enough goals," McLeish admitted. "We have been in trouble because we have not taken care of our own results and that is the problem."