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By ESPN Staff

Ferguson vows United will fight on after slip

Sir Alex Ferguson insists Manchester United's title setback will only inspire his players to keep going to the last minute of the campaign.

United's lead over Chelsea has been pegged back to three points after the weekend's matches, but Ferguson believes their 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough was a point won rather than lost.

The Premier League leaders took the lead at an icy Riverside courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo's 37th goal of the season - but two goals from Brazilian striker Afonso Alves put Boro ahead.

It was left to Wayne Rooney's late deflected effort to secure a share of the spoils.

Ferguson said: 'We could have lost the game, there's no question. They had some chances - and at times our defending was a bit haphazard, I thought.

'But at other moments we could have won the game, because some of the quality of our football was terrific.

'The nature of the club is that we never give in, and that's a great quality to have at this time of year.

'It sends out a signal to everyone that we will never give in. We will stretch ourselves in every game as long as we can.'

Ferguson believes yesterday's result could yet turn out to be a title-clincher.

'That point could be important, absolutely. Our goal difference is good obviously, but we cannot take anything for granted,' he added.

'I said some weeks ago consistency will win us it and I think the most consistent team will do that - and I hope that it's us.'

United still have to play Arsenal at home and visit Stamford Bridge, and Rio Ferdinand has given Ferguson another defensive headache after leaving the Riverside with his foot in a protective case.

Ferguson can ill afford to lose Ferdinand for long, with fellow centre-back Nemanja Vidic out for three weeks and some crucial matches coming up.

He said: 'I hope it's not serious with Rio, but he was limping for too long.

'The danger was to keep carrying on with him when he was limping he was not playing at his full performance level.'

It looks unlikely Ferdinand will play in the Champions League second leg against Roma this week, especially with Gerard Pique impressing Ferguson as a replacement for the England defender.

Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate is in little doubt the result has thrown open the title race again.

Southgate said: 'I'm not bothered who wins, but the pleasing thing is that we have shown we can compete with the three best football teams.

'United and Arsenal are better to watch, but Chelsea have a resilience. We have thrown it open a bit today - which is good for the league.'

Alves' goals were his first for the club and the Brazilian said: 'It is a dream come true for me to score my first goals, and especially for them to come against Manchester United.

'I knew the goals would come - and now they have'

Southgate was effusive about Alves' contribution, adding: 'Last week he was bright, and that was the first time we have created chances for him. We have seen on the training ground that he's an excellent finisher.

'His finishes today were outstanding, and he has given everyone a glimpse of what he can do.'

Southgate is convinced Middlesbrough came close to inflicting a defeat on the league leaders.

'We had them rattled - we had them on the back foot,' he said.

'We responded very well to going a goal behind and right to the end had chances.

'We have played simple but effective football and have asked questions. That is the thing I'm always saying to the players about the top teams - can they defend? A lot of teams don't ask those questions.'