MANCHESTER (AFP) - Ryan Giggs has warned Manchester United fans that their side's swashbuckling style might have to be curtailed as the season enters its final weeks with a potential treble still up for grabs.
United edged nearer to their first Premiership title since 2003 with a 2-0 win over struggling Sheffield United on Tuesday but it was a subdued performance when set against the 7-1 thrashing of Roma last week or even the 4-1 rout of Watford in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.
And Giggs expects more of the same in the coming weeks.
"It is not about performances now, it is about winning games," said the winger, who has featured in all eight previous Premier League triumphs under Sir Alex Ferguson.
"We can't score four and five every time. I would take 1-0 against Middlesbrough (on Saturday) right now.
"The key for us is to keep clean sheets, because we will always create a few chances. So, as long as the lads at the back do their job, I am sure we will be okay."
United's stretched defensive resources will be replenished when Rio Ferdinand and John O'Shea return to the fold on Saturday, three days before the Champions League semi-final first leg against AC Milan.
Ferguson meanwhile has paid tribute to the burgeoning role of Alan Smith following the striker's comeback from career-threatening ankle and leg fractures that meant he was making his first Premiership start in 14 months on Tuesday.
"Alan has had a torrid time," observed Ferguson. "But not only did he work like a beast to recover from the extensive damage, he persevered when it became apparent that despite being declared fit, he still had some way to go to rediscover his previous sharpness and form.
"It must have been disheartening to find that everything was taking time to fall into place. But he has stuck at it and I am so pleased for him."
Smith's form, together with the likelihood Ferguson will attempt to bolster his striking options in the summer, is bound to raise question marks over the future of Louis Saha.
Lauded for his enormous impact at the start of the season, Saha has started just three games since New Year's Day and is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury.
After repeatedly being forced to revise an anticipated return date for the former Fulham man, Ferguson appears to be growing exasperated by his failure to appear.
"Louis is still bothered by his hamstring," admitted the Scot. "I don't see any quick return there."
Although he has no major winners' medals to show off, Smith was involved in a Champions League semi-final during his time at Leeds, which should be handy against Milan next week.
Giggs has played in three. And he believes his experience, plus that of Paul Scholes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, will prove vital in the weeks ahead.
"The experience of the manager and the players who have done it before is always a help, especially to the players who have already won a league," he said.
"We are down to the business end of the season now and facing a lot of high pressure games in a very short space of time.
"Getting up for all these matches is a skill itself. Which is more important, Middlesbrough or Milan? One is just as important as the other, so we have to remain focused until the end of the season."
MANCHESTER, England (AFP) - Sir Alex Ferguson is confident his Manchester United squad will hold their nerve to close out the Premiership title battle after watching them edge closer to the finishing line with a clinical win over struggling Sheffield United.
Goals from Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney early in each half saw United emerge from Tuesday night's Old Trafford encounter with a 2-0 win, a result that left them six points clear of Chelsea ahead of the champions' game at West Ham on Wednesday evening.
"This was another step closer to the title and we have the right temperament to do it," Ferguson insisted afterwards.
"It doesn't matter what team I play, they are showing they are up for it all the time. We have a six-point lead with five games to go, this was another one on the road for us but there is still a long way and I'm looking at every game now as a cup final, they are all so important.
"In the first half we had to endure some heavy tackling and we survived that. I said to them at half-time, be sensible, get a goal and save your legs. In the end it was a great scoreline for us.
"Our spirit and camaraderie is terrific, you can see that out on the pitch, they all encourage each other, they dug in and our football was good."
The United manager was unhappy with the challenge by Colin Kazim-Richards that sent Patrice Evra to hospital for a scan on a calf injury although his defence will welcome back John O'Shea and Rio Ferdinand from injury for Saturday's visit of Middlesbrough.
"I thought it looked a bad tackle," said the United manager. "He will have a scan tomorrow so we don't know the extent but we will have a bit more experience and strength at the back on Saturday."
Another plus to emerge from the evening was a 20th goal of the season for Wayne Rooney - a personal best - and the opportunity for Ferguson to win back the friendly wager he lost with Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portuguese winger hit the 15th of his 21 goals in the current campaign.
Ferguson joked: "Wayne promised me 20 at the start of the season, in fact he said he'd get 25! So maybe I can make some money out of him, some of the money I lost on Ronaldo!"
United had a number of narrow escapes against a resilient Sheffield team - notably in the 68th minute when, with the Blades trailing 2-0, Luton Shelton was clearly brought down by Gabriel Heinze although referee Rob Styles failed to give a penalty.
"I haven't seen it but people say it could well have been a penalty," said Ferguson. "But we've had that many turned down, maybe we deserve that bit of luck sometimes."
United manager Neil Warnock was understandably irritated by Styles' failure to award a penalty which might have allowed his team to force their way back into contention.
"Everybody who has seen it says it's a stonewall penalty," said Warnock. "It's disappointing. I spoke to Rob and he said he couldn't 100 per cent give a penalty but surely he should have been able to look across to his linesman who was also in a good position?
"Between them they could have got it right but he said it was his decision and he didn't want the linesman to come into it. I don't understand it and never will. You can draw your own opinions when you see it. It's difficult to make major decisions like that so I'm not surprised he didn't make it.
"They have to give it and then upset Sir Alex on the touchline, not just 75,000, and I know people don't like upsetting Sir Alex!"