EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS

18/01/2012 11:01, Report by Nick Coppack
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Smalling: Derby win was vital

get beaten by Blackburn on New Year’s Eve and then Newcastle a few days later. The win at Manchester City in the FA Cup has given us a lift, so we hope now we can kick on because there are some big games to come.

Will that win over City have any impact on the title race?
I don’t think so, no. The biggest thing it did was give us a morale boost at a time when people were starting to write us off. Instead of crumbling we went to City and beat them on their home turf, even if we made hard work of it in the second half. Winning that game showed a lot of character.

Especially as you went into the match as underdogs, on the back of two defeats...
Exactly. It was a big result. Even had it been against different opposition or in a different competition, it would have been essential to win that game. Everybody expected us to take maximum points against Blackburn and Newcastle because we’d done well against Wigan, Fulham and QPR. So to lose those two matches hurt a lot and prompted a lot of criticism. It made the FA Cup tie even more of a must-win game. We were determined to show the world we could still perform and I think we did that in the first half.

Is recent criticism unfair, given United have more points per game this season?
I can understand it because we’re behind City in the league and expectations of this club – from both inside and out – are massive. If we’re not on top then everybody’s asking why. Rightly so, too. Finishing second with more points than we collected last season won’t make us feel any better about ourselves. The only objective is to win the league.

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