Forget squeaky bum time...Fergie risks getting bitten on the bum in the title race
Sir Alex Ferguson calls this stage of the season “squeaky bum time”.
And if any Manchester United players thought they already had a Premier League title medal in their back-pocket, they are now finding out the hard way that the moment you think you’ve got this game cracked, it comes back to bite you on the backside.
When Manchester United were 4-2 ahead against Everton at Old Trafford last week, everyone would have accepted that the Premier League title race was over.
United were going eight points clear, with just three games to play, and, although rivals Manchester City knew they would reduce the deficit again, if they won at Wolves, I am sure even Roberto Mancini and his players thought it was all over.
Then Everton scored two brilliant goals to blow the championship race wide open.
And a couple of hours later, City had won at Molineux to cut United’s lead to three points and it was game on. Again.
The expressions on the faces of United’s players as they walked off spoke a million words.
They knew they had opened the door and welcomed their closest rivals back into the mix.
Tomorrow’s meeting of Manchester’s clubs is a game that the whole of football is talking about.
I’m jumping out of my skin with excitement, thinking about it – and I have no affinity with either.
If City win – and that is the only result that will keep them alive – they will go top, courtesy of their superior goal difference. Any other outcome and, once again, it will be United’s to lose.
City have got a trip to bang-in-form Newcastle, then a home game against a QPR side scrapping for their lives.
United have Swansea at home and a last-day visit to Sunderland.
How will it go? Anyone who thinks they can predict the outcome is living in cloud-cuckoo-land after the most amazing week of football I can recall.
We saw United falter against Everton, Chelsea come from two-goals down at the Nou Camp to knock Barcelona out of the Champions League, with 10 men, and Bayern Munich overcome Real Madrid on penalties in the Bernabeu.
The essence of our wonderful sport encapsulated perfectly.
And now for most dramatic derby in English football that I can remember.
In the red corner will be Sir Alex and his defending champs. They will be hurting after having their noses bloodied when City spanked them 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
This is the kind of game when United usually show their mettle and draw on all the energy and strength they have built up from being at the top for 20 years.
In the blue corner is Roberto Mancini and his superstars.
Fergie may be the master of mind games, but the way Mr Mancini has handled himself has been a lesson.
I think he was right to say City were out of it a few weeks ago.
If he had said they were still going to win the title, people would have thought he was cracking up. Instead, he took the pressure off his players and, at the same time, challenged them to prove him wrong. It was a stroke of genius.
Carlos Tevez has returned and looks back to his best.
His link play with Sergio Aguero and David Silva has been a joy to watch.
And with Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia and Nani indicating that United’s best form of defence is to attack, I can’t wait to see it kick off at the Etihad.
As a great man once said: “Football, bloody hell.”
Even if John Terry lives to be 100 years old, there won’t be a day when he doesn’t look back on his moment of madness in the Nou Camp and beat himself up with regret and recrimination.
Perhaps the greatest night in Chelsea’s history wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t reduced to 10 men when their captain was sent off for kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the back. Sometimes it’s written in the stars these things happen.
Maybe Terry’s red card was the catalyst for Roberto Di Matteo’s men to come back from two goals down against the best team I have ever seen to claim a place in the final.
When Lionel Messi misses a penalty, you know that something mysterious is taking place.
Some people call it fate. I’d rather believe it is due to the collective will of a team refusing to be beaten.
Terry will be beating himself up for what he did. When his team-mates face Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, he’ll feel worse.
And take it from me, John, those feelings never go away.
I’m 49 now. I loved being a footballer and I love being a manager. I am privileged to still be in the game. But, believe me, there are still times in my quieter moments when I think about some mistake I made and think, ‘You bloody idiot.’
I felt desperately sorry for Terry when he tried to claim it was all unintentional. His plea for mercy was the act of a desperate man.
You were caught bang to rights, John. So, just hold your hands up and accept the punishment.
Last October, after my Blackpool team were whooped 3-1 by Burnley at Turf Moor, I went to a Halloween party at my local pub dressed as Freddy Krueger.
Nothing unusual about that, apart from the fact that Pendle Inn is full of Clarets fans.
Let’s just say that I was in an ugly mood – and it had nothing to do with wearing a mask of the monster from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Last week, 24 pub regulars were my guests at Bloomfield Road as we beat Burnley 4-0 to clinch our Championship play-offs place.
I’d like to think I was a good host because there was absolutely no gloating from me.
Just the warm satisfaction that, with a game of the season remaining, we had clinched our place in the play-offs.
This week I have been feeling like another film character – the young boy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Charlie came from a poor family but was lucky enough to win a golden ticket that got him into Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Like Charlie, I haven’t had much money to spend. But despite spending very little, we have got our golden ticket for the end-of-season lottery.
We lost so many top players last summer that I worried what would happen to this club.
First, there was relegation and then there was an exodus of players.
If you had told me then that we would reach the play-off I’d have thought you were barking mad.
Back in 2010 there was nothing negative about the club and we came from nowhere to reach the Premier League.
This time, I’ve had to rebuild the team after the extreme disappointment of relegation.
We’ve completed one part of our mission – now comes the hardest part.
But if you go out there and enjoy yourself, all the hope and expectation looks after itself.
You should bask in these situations.
If Chelsea can beat Barcelona despite being 2-0 down and down to 10 men, then anything can happen in football.