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Spurs mean business - Fergie

ALEX FERGUSON believes Tottenham's refusal to let Luka Modric join Chelsea last summer proved to be the catalyst for their best season in decades.

Spurs entertain Manchester United this weekend currently third in the Barclays Premier League and with only a replay against League One Stevenage blocking the path to an FA Cup quarter-final against Bolton.

The key, according to Ferguson, was the positive message Tottenham sent out in keeping Modric, who said: "The fact they decided to hold on to Modric against what everyone thought was a big Chelsea bid swung the players around. That was an indication that they mean business and it has worked because they have had a great season."

He added: "Up until three weeks ago they were playing the best football in the league."

Tottenham's present hiccup, following away defeats at Manchester City and Arsenal, plus a home draw with relegation-threatened Wolves, seems certain to ensure they do not end their long wait for a championship.

It does not make them any easier to beat, though. And having kept the gap to leaders Manchester City to a couple of points thanks to Ryan Giggs' last-gasp winner at Norwich, Ferguson views this weekend's encounter at White Hart Lane as a pivotal encounter in the season.

United certainly have a run of fixtures after Tottenham which should bring maximum points and allow them to exert maximum pressure on City, so a 25-match unbeaten record against Spurs bodes well.

Ferguson is wary though, particularly as this Tottenham side, despite throwing away a two-goal lead at Arsenal on Sunday, look far stronger than most.

"He (Harry Redknapp) has added a lot of exciting players," Ferguson said. "He has changed them right round in the last few years.

"Overall, they have had a great season," he added. "They have hit a plateau but we know Sunday is an important game for us. The most important game so far."