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Michael Taylor 28th Dec 2008 - 14:17

Fergie targets maximum New Year's points

Alex Ferguson has expressed the importance of picking up maximum Premier League points over the New Year period, as Manchester United's chase to catch Liverpool continues against Middlesbrough.

Manchester United have struggled to get into their stride so far this season but, after coming back from the World Club Cup in Japan, the Red Devils find themselves ten points away from leaders Liverpool with three games in hand.

Ferguson said, "We have a long programme of home games in the run-in against top teams.

"So if we get to New Year's Day within a point or so of the leaders, I think we will have a massive chance."

Nobody doubts the champions' ability to put together a great run in 2009 - in fact, they have won consecutive Premier League titles based on a superb second half of the season, but they need to find their best form quickly.

They are big 1/5 favourites to beat Middlesbrough on Monday and it is hard to see how Gareth Southgate's men can leave Old Trafford with anything, with the draw at 5/1 and an away win 14/1.

Boro are enduring a poor run and are without a win in seven games, leaving a section of Riverside fans baying for Southgate's blood, but they are not without any hope as they boast a decent record at Old Trafford.

The North East club have only lost three Premier League games at the Theatre of Dreams since 2002, however on their last visit they were drubbed 4-1, with Rooney, Tevez and Nani all getting on the scoresheet.

You wouldn't bet against a similar scoreline again this time around with 4-1 priced at 16/1, although United have not been quite as prolific in front of goal this season so 11/2 about 2-0 or 6/1 about 3-0 could be more realistic.

On the first goalscorer market Carlos Tevez looks to be the best value bet at 5/1 as the tricky Argentine seems to be getting back to his best, while Ronaldo (3/1) and Berbatov (7/2) look short following recent baron spells.

Man Utd struggled to put a determined Stoke side away on Boxing Day and if it had not been for Tevez's late strike it could easily have been a draw. If you fancy history to repeat then you may be tempted by the huge 20/1 we are offering on the first goal to be scored in the final ten minutes of the game.

However, if you think a goal will come before the last ten minutes, then the 9/2 between 21-30 minutes and 6/1 between 31-40 minutes may be interesting, especially if you consider that most first goals have been scored at Old Trafford this season between those times.

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