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Inter Milan must step up against Roma

Inter Milan
By ESPN Staff

Ferguson pins his title hopes on neighbours Bolton

Sir Alex Ferguson has stoked up the title race by backing Bolton to help Manchester United make further inroads into Chelsea's seven-point Barclays Premiership lead next weekend.

Second-half strikes from Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-sung saw off Arsenal today in front of a record Old Trafford crowd, steering United to a ninth successive league win.

It was the perfect response to 10-man Chelsea's earlier triumph against West Ham and set up a tense five-game run to the line which includes the Red Devils' own trip to Stamford Bridge on April 29.

Before then, though, Ferguson looked ahead to a pivotal 24 hours. His side should reduce Chelsea's lead still further by beating doomed Sunderland on Good Friday, the day before Jose Mourinho takes his team to Bolton who lost for the fourth time on the trot at Liverpool today.

'Do you think Bolton are going to lose five in a row?' asked Ferguson. 'I don't.

'Bolton are still going for Europe and they will be really up for it. Chelsea also have to go to Blackburn and Newcastle on the last day for Alan Shearer's final game.

'There are a lot of things in our favour. But the real decider will be at Stamford Bridge - when we have to win.'

Even Arsene Wenger admitted United have a 'tiny' chance of overhauling Chelsea, although United know any slip will almost certainly end their chances.

They so nearly had cause today to rue the late decision to instal Graham Poll as referee, the official failing to spot Kolo Toure palming away Rooney's goalbound shot just before half-time.

Wenger did not see the incident either, while Ferguson's response would no doubt have been markedly less phlegmatic had his side not turned their superiority into goals.

'There were a few bodies around, so it was perhaps understandable Graham didn't see it. But if we had not won the match it would have been a real kick in the teeth, because they should have been down to 10 men as well,' said the United boss.

Fortunately for the hosts, in front of 70,908 - the biggest crowd ever to see United play at Old Trafford - Rooney saved the day.

First, the England striker put United in front in magnificent fashion - taking Mikael Silvestre's cross down superbly before blasting his 17th goal of the campaign beyond Jens Lehmann.

Then as Arsenal looked for the equaliser following the introduction of Thierry Henry, Rooney skipped past Philippe Senderos and then had the presence of mind to find Park with a cut-back which the South Korean gleefully bundled home.

'It was a five-star performance,' said Ferguson. 'We could have won by more than two - and while people always want to talk about Wayne, it was a real team effort.'

Wenger insisted his decision to leave out Henry was based purely on the Frenchman's tiredness following the Gunners' Champions League defeat of Juventus. He denied the move contributed to his side's failure to record a first league win over their old rivals in almost four years.

'Thierry had not recovered from Wednesday,' said Wenger. 'He has played more games than the other players and he has just played on his own up front against Juventus twice.

'But we did not concede the first goal because he was on the bench. Manchester United won the game because overall they were sharper than us.'

The result means Tottenham now have the advantage in the battle for the fourth Champions League slot - although for Sol Campbell, there is far more reason to be concerned.

Sir Bobby Robson is among a large body of opinion which contends the central defender needs some time on the pitch if he is to stand any chance of making Sven-Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad.

Yet despite being free of injury, Campbell never even made the journey north - let alone force his way past Senderos and Toure into the Gunners' starting line-up.

'Sol was available to play,' confirmed Wenger.