Avram Grant has promised Manchester United a fight to the very finish after his Chelsea side beat Newcastle to ensure the English Premier League title race will go right down to the wire.
A hard-fought 2-0 win at St James’ Park on Monday stretched Chelsea’s impressive unbeaten league run to 20 games to set up a tense last day of the season on Sunday. The sides are level on points, but with a vastly superior goal difference leaders United remain heavy favorites to retain their crown.
Alex Ferguson’s side need only to match Chelsea’s result against Bolton Wanderers when they travel to Wigan Athletic on Sunday to bring the curtain down on the campaign with their 10th title in 16 Premier League seasons.
But Grant insisted: “We’ve given United a good, good battle and we’ll never give up. We will fight to the finish.”
“Nobody really thought about us as title candidates, but we’re level on points with them and only goal difference separates us so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“United are in a better position because of the goal difference, but they’re not in an easy position,” Grant said.
After second-half goals from Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda secured a priceless win, Grant brushed off suggestions that Wigan, managed by former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce, will give Ferguson’s men an easy ride.
He added: “I’ve been involved in football for 30 years and I believe in the traditions of English football so I don’t think they will give United an easy game.”
Chelsea skipper John Terry concurred, adding: “Wigan have been a real credit to themselves and they did themselves justice when they got a draw against us so I’m sure they’ll battle all the way against United.”
Kevin Keegan was glowing in his praise for Chelsea, but the Newcastle manager predicted Grant’s side are ultimately destined to finish second.
“They would be worthy champions but I don’t think they will be. In any season apart from this you have one exceptional team. This time there are two. I just can’t see United going to Wigan on the last day and losing. Avram will be going into that last game more in hope than expectation,” Keegan said.
Keegan launched a withering attack on the predictable nature of the Premier League, admitting that even with the vast spending power of billionaire owner Mike Ashley, Newcastle have little hope of breaking into the top four during the length of his three year contract at St James’ Park.
“Chelsea have got a strong squad and that’s why they’re up challenging where they are but we’re a million miles away from that. This league is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but the greatest in the world,” he said. “We’re trying to win the other league that’s going on in the Premier League below the top four.”