Title bid intact, but penalty decision irks Fergie

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson remained confident about his side’s title hopes despite their 0-0 draw with Newcastle on Tuesday.After their spiteful FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester City on Saturday, Ferguson’s men were well below their brilliant best at St James’ Park, and despite having several golden chances to break the deadlock the league leaders had to be content with a share of the points.

Ferguson, however, said he was glad his side increased their lead on top of the league to seven points over second-placed Arsenal.

“We are in a better position than we were on Saturday,” Ferguson said.

“We have played one less game and are in the same position we were with Arsenal with five games left.”

“There are two important games going to come up, obviously, and that’s the Arsenal game away and the Chelsea game at home.’

“You have got to look at Chelsea also and how they respond with the three home games in a row now.”

Two crucial penalty decisions by referee Lee Probert shaped Tuesday’s game.

First he decided against awarding a spot kick to Newcastle when Peter Lovenkrands was felled by Anderson in the box, and he denied United a penalty in stoppage time when Javier Hernandez appeared to be caught by Danny Simpson.

Probert’s decision to book the Mexican for diving angered Ferguson.

“It was a clear penalty. It’s an insult because he’s booked him,” the Scotsman said.

“I thought the referee had a good game tonight, but he’s let himself down by booking the player.”

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew said he was delighted with the performance of his side, and claimed they were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty for Anderson’s challenge on Lovenkrands.

“In the second-half they caused us all sorts of problems. Our discipline and our resilience carried us through,” Pardew said.

“We were out on our feet in the end. It was a tremendous night for Newcastle United. The stadium was great, it was great to see the crowd’s response at the end. They appreciated we did our very best.”

“I’ve reviewed them both (the penalties). At the time I thought Peter’s was a definite penalty because he’s such an honest character and he wouldn’t go down if he wasn’t clipped.”

Regarding Manchester United’s late penalty claims, Pardew added: “Danny (Simpson) stuck a leg out but he just withdrew it at the last minute.”

“In the last minute I don’t criticise the player for taking the opportunity to go down but the referee got the decision right and we got a deserved draw.”