“But in the second half we rallied and got back to 2-2. I thought at that point we were a certainty to win it.”
Anderson’s introduction at half-time – sent on for Javier Hernandez – helped inject urgency into the side, but with the Brazilian having missed United’s last 11 fixtures, it was a substitution Sir Alex had hoped he wouldn’t have to make.
“We have a lot of injuries at the moment and I had to take a gamble on Anderson's fitness,” he explained. “He's been training very well for 10 days but it was his first game back and it wasn't easy for him. But he didn't let us down. He did his best.”
The defeat means United will end 2011 in second place, trailing crosstown rivals Manchester City. But Sir Alex is still confident the Reds will have a major say in where the Barclays Premier League trophy ends up come May.
“We know we can improve on today's performance,” he said. “We won't get many like that. I'm confident we'll give it [the title] a real go.”