MANCHESTER UNITED will still lift the title despite being knocked off the Premiership summit by Arsenal this weekend.That is the view of Leeds boss and former Highbury favourite David O'Leary despite his young side giving Alex Ferguson's team the runaround for much of yesterday's 1-1 draw at Elland Road.
The result leaves Manchester United trailing the Gunners by a point with a game in hand.
But O'Leary insisted that United, weary from their European Cup exertions against Juventus, still have enough in reserve.
And the former Highbury defender confirmed that Leeds would be doing everything ``to kick Arsenal's butt'' when the two teams meet at Elland Road next month.
``I said at the start of the season that Manchester United would win it and I'm sticking with that,'' said O'Leary, who watched his side surge into the lead through Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink only to be pegged back by a second-half equaliser from Andy Cole.
``I always thought Arsenal would be pushing them hard and would be with them all the way but I believe Manchester United will go on to win it from here.
``I'm going for them but Arsenal will push it all the way, they have got such belief down there.''
But O'Leary, who signed a new five-year contract worth £6m before the kick-off, insisted that his side's sparkling performance means they will soon be closing in on Manchester United.
``I am proud of the way my players performed against a team that have set the standards,'' said O'Leary.
``I have pledged my allegiance to the club and there is no get-out rubbish in my contract.
``If we are going places over the next five years we have to be committed. I have shown my players I am here to stay. I'm going to try to hound United home and away.
``When we go to Old Trafford I'm going to try to take them on by playing good football, not fancy football but passing football threatening their goalkeeper.
``We want to be where they are now and as long as we build on our quality we will get there.''
Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale, said: ``We're delighted. He has committed himself to the future and there are no get-out clauses like George had.''
Ferguson, meanwhile, absolved his star striker Dwight Yorke of any blame after he had missed a golden chance when put through by substitute Teddy Sheringham in the final seconds.
``Leeds had done very well, showing lots of pace in the first 20 minutes but we could well have won it in those last seconds,'' said Ferguson.
``Even so I think we can forgive Yorke one. He already has 27 goals this season which is a marvellous achievement.''
He continued: ``We didn't settle for this, we wanted to win but in the end we did well to come back and take a point from a game which is always an emotional occasion.
``Given our exertions in the past two weeks I am proud of what my players have achieved. Once again they showed their character when they needed to.''
He conceded United had been careless in their passing but that was to be expected after two titanic matches against both Arsenal and Juventus in recent weeks.
``Leeds is always an emotional game,'' said Ferguson. ``They had only conceded eight goals here this season which is quite a record and they have some exciting youngsters.
``They harried and hustled and were pumped up for it and we did well to overcome that.''
O'Leary added: ``My young players lost a bit of their sparkle when they got tired. But I have a group of players here who can cope with any situation. We don't have any fear of United, just respect for them. But we want to be better than them.''
Yesterday's game didn't provide Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy with any comfort. Ian Harte has cried off from the Euro 2000 warm-up game against high-flying Sweden at Lansdowne Road on Wednesday.
Harte sustained a back injury while playing yesterday and while he played 90 minutes was withdrawn afterwards for the international by O'Leary.
McCarthy, who has already lost Keith O'Neill due to injury, has decided not to call up a replacement for Harte, who can play at left-back or centre-half: ``I've got plenty of cover available.''
The Irish manager is hopeful that the Manchester United duo of Roy Keane and Denis Irwin will link up with the squad as scheduled this morning.
Ferguson has withdrawn Andy Cole and Paul Scholes from the England squad to play Hungary on Wednesday but up to last night McCarthy had received no contact from the Old Trafford supremo about injuries involving his Irish stars.
Ferguson had bad news for other international managers yesterday as Jaap Stam, whose Achilles tendon injury is causing concern, will not join up with Holland, Ronny Johnsen and Henning Berg will not be part of Norway's plans.