Euro failure the spark for United hot streak - Evra
Patrice Evra claims Manchester United have shown that "the team is the star" at Old Trafford by using their Champions League humiliation as the catalyst for a surge to the brink of the Premier League summit.
If Alex Ferguson's team avoid defeat at home to Blackburn on Saturday, they will dislodge Manchester City from top spot ahead of their local rivals' trip to Sunderland on Sunday.
As they surveyed the fallout from their Champions League group stage exit earlier this month, United's domestic situation appeared only marginally healthier.
Eliminated from the Carling Cup by Crystal Palace and with City five points clear at the top of the table -- with a goal difference 17 goals superior to United's -- next month's FA Cup third-round derby at the Etihad Stadium had begun to look like the game that would make or break their season.
Yet since being eliminated by Basel, United have played four and won four, scoring 16 goals and only conceding one.
"I think it was a big disappointment when we went out early in the Champions League, but it was a wake-up call," Evra said. "Maybe everyone looked at themselves in the mirror and said, 'We can do much better.'
"What the fans expect of every player, we are doing now and that's why I'm very pleased. Nothing is easy; it (results) is because we are working hard. If we stopped working hard and think only that the United name will be enough, everything is going to be wrong.
"That's why we have to keep going with this momentum and trust each other because it's a big squad and everyone wants to show they deserve to play. If we win and score goals and keep many clean sheets, like we did against Wigan (on St Stephen's Day), we're going to be at the top of the league at the end of the season. We are now in a good position, but to be honest with you, I am looking for Man United all the time to be at the top."
Although United's season plunged to unexpected depths with the 6-1 derby defeat against City at Old Trafford in October, a run of eight wins and a draw from the subsequent nine league games has restored Ferguson's team to the title race and banished the prospect of City cruising unchallenged to their first championship since 1968.
The winning run has been achieved despite an escalating injury crisis during which United beat Wigan with 10 first-team players unavailable because of injury or illness.
Defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are expected to return to face Blackburn on Saturday, while Rio Ferdinand's back problem will be reassessed before the weekend.
But with injuries forcing Ferguson to field Michael Carrick at centre-half against Wigan, followed by Evra's redeployment alongside him because of a calf injury sustained by Jonny Evans, United are pursuing City with a variety of square pegs in round holes.
Evra insists, however, that United's ability to overcome the injury problems is a testament to the strength of character within the dressing-room.
"This is the United spirit," said Evra, who was captain for the day in the absence of Nemanja Vidic and Ferdinand. "You can play everywhere, in any position. If you want to win, you have to accept it. When they told me at half-time against Wigan that I was playing centre-half I said, 'OK, it's going to be easy for me.'
"The team is the star, not only one player. That's why you can put me and Michael Carrick at centre-back and see Antonio Valencia playing right-back -- we're going to win because it's the team effort and team spirit. That's why I'm confident. I've said from the beginning -- in six years playing here -- about the Man United spirit. No one team has got that spirit. This is United. This is why I'm so proud to play here."
Despite United's ability so far to survive the injury crisis, however, Evra admits that the team cannot expect to ride their luck for the rest of the season. "I'm a little bit worried because we need everyone fit if we want to win the league," he said. "It (injuries) starts to be annoying because this is not the first year we have had so many injuries. I remember playing at the back with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher two or three years ago because the injuries were so bad, so it is not the first time.
"But I hope everyone gets fit again because Blackburn is another big, big game and we need all our defenders. I'm lucky -- I'm the only one who stays fit!" (© Daily Telegraph, London)