Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson bullish over title hopes
Wayne Rooney protests after Javier Hernandez is denied a penalty late on
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson insisted minimal damage had been done to his side's title push despite their 0-0 draw at Newcastle.
The Red Devils were not at their best as they missed the chance to go nine points clear of second-placed Arsenal and 11 clear of Chelsea in third.
But Ferguson said: "We are in a better position than we were on Saturday.
"We have played one less game and are in the same position we were with Arsenal with five games left."
Arsenal can move to within four points of Manchester United with a win
on Wednesday, while Chelsea could move to within six points if they win their game in hand.
And as both sides face United in the run-in, Ferguson admits his side face some crucial matches in the coming weeks.
Pardew congratulates 'brave' referee
"There are two important games going to come up, obviously, and that's the Arsenal game away and the Chelsea game at home," said the Scot, whose side are chasing a record 19th top-flight title.
"You have got to look at Chelsea also and how they respond with the three home games in a row now."
Ferguson's side were rarely at their fluent best at St James' Park and yet still had enough chances to win it.
Javier Hernandez forced a superb early save from Newcastle keeper Tim Krul, Wayne Rooney wasted a fine chance one-on-one and Ryan Giggs skewed wide with the goal gaping midway through the second half.
But Newcastle will feel they deserved a point for a bullish display that ensured United were never able to settle into a rhythm.
In the end, the match hinged on two penalty decisions - neither given - the first when Peter Lovenkrands went over Anderson's challenge in the Manchester United box and the other in stoppage time at the other end when Hernandez was booked for a dive, despite appearing to be caught by Newcastle defender Danny Simpson in the box.
And Ferguson was adamant referee Lee Probert got the second decision wrong, saying: "It was a clear penalty [and] it's an insult because he's booked him.
"I thought the referee had a good game tonight, but he's let himself down by booking the player.
"If it's not a penalty, fine, but to book him is an insult. There is definitely contact, no doubt about that."
Magpies boss Alan Pardew, however, insisted Simpson's challenge did not warrant a penalty.
"My heart sank [at the end] because I thought the ref had given it," he said. "The history of Manchester United - last-minute goals, the club that they are, the manager that they have, I honestly thought the referee had given it.
"You have to applaud him for the decision he made because it was the correct decision.
"Danny stuck a leg out, if I am honest, but just retrieved it back in and Hernandez went over. He took that opportunity and in the last minute, I don't criticise him for that - I might have done it myself - but the referee got the decision right and we got, in my opinion, a deserved draw."
Newcastle's point took them to 40 for the season and lifted them back into ninth place, ever closer to booking their place in next season's top flight.
"With our goal difference, you would like to think it's probably enough," added Pardew. "But we have five games left and we have still got a great opportunity to finish in the top 10.
"With the suspensions and injuries that we have and the player we lost in the window [Andy Carroll], we can be very proud of that."
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