A stunned Ferguson saw his side suffer a comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Newcastle, condemning them to back-to-back league losses for the first time in 10 months to remain in second, but three points adrift of Roberto Mancini’s leaders, while holding the same advantage over Tottenham Hotspur, in third.
The Manchester rivals meet in the FA Cup this weekend, but Ferguson’s thoughts remain on his attempts to stretch City’s 44-year wait for the English top-flight crown.
“Of course it is advantage City. We had our opportunity, they played last night and won, so it’s advantage to them.
“The one plus for me is we had two or three players back, and maybe that can make the difference. It’s not a time to panic – we have the patience and experience to cope.”
Phil Jones’ embarrassing injury-time own goal completed United’s misery, after stunning goals in each half from Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye set Newcastle on the way to a first home win in two months to cement their hold on seventh place.
Wayne Rooney failed to shine on his return after a one-game suspension and hefty fine for flouting a club curfew over Christmas, as United were shut out for the first time this season.
“We started reasonably well, and we had a good chance when Wayne was through and the ball ran under his foot,” Ferguson said. “But then Newcastle scored a fantastic goal, and it really picked everyone up in the stadium.
“They got really aggressive against us and made it difficult.
“We didn’t make enough of our possession – it was one of those nights.
“Newcastle have very strong lads up front. They’re very aggressive and a real handful. But the story of the game was two fantastic strikes. There was no chance anybody would have saved them.”
Newcastle lose 15-goal top scorer Ba and the equally-influential midfielder Cheik Tiote to African Cup of Nations duty for the next month, and manager Alan Pardew admitted: “I’m not going to hide the fact that Demba and Cheik were our two outstanding players tonight, and we’re going to miss them while they’re away.
“In addition to his goal, Demba’s all-round display was outstanding, and it was as good a display as he’s produced since he’s been here.
In the night’s other game, Bolton moved off the bottom after coming from behind to beat Everton 2-1 at Goodison Park.
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard opened the scoring with a freak effort before Bolton hit back with goals from David Ngog and Gary Cahill.
Howard’s 63rd-minute effort came when the Everton goalkeeper’s long clearance bounced over the head of Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan and flew into the net. He is only the fourth goalie to score in Premier League history.
But Bolton responded almost immediately, with Ngog beating John Heitinga and curling a left-footed shot into the far corner.
Cahill – expected to join Chelsea later this month – then drove in the winner for a vital three points for Bolton.