Manchester United standouts Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Chris Smalling talk about United's ability to grind out results and the attitude in the locker room for the team that is chasing the English Premier League title.
"It was a message to Arsenal and Chelsea," said Ryan Giggs, who was moved to left-back for the second half against West Ham but played like an auxiliary left‑winger. "We've done it so many times ... we've ground out results, not played so well, although I thought we played really well here, even in the first half.
"The thing is that the bench looks strong. We've got players coming back. We've got Anderson; Nani's on the bench and he has been brilliant this season ... Dimitar Berbatov, Chico [Javier Hernández], Michael Owen. And they were the difference. Chico and Berbatov made the difference when they came on."
Rooney picked up the theme. "Our rivals would have known that this game wasn't over," he said. "A few years ago, when Chelsea won the league [under José Mourinho], they seemed to keep doing that. They would be losing [in an early kick-off] and then, when we had finished the warm-up, they had won the game. It is a bit of a blow but they [United's rivals] have to concentrate on their own job. The big games keep coming but you live for games like these. In some ways, we have to say our season starts now."
The never-say-die spirit has been ingrained by Ferguson and Smalling is the latest player to undergo the indoctrination. There remains an element of wide‑eyed wonder about the 21-year-old, who can scarcely believe what has happened to him.
When the new year broke in 2010, the former Maidstone United player had appeared in only two Premier League matches for Fulham. Now, after a £10m transfer to Old Trafford and injuries to key defensive personnel, most notably Rio Ferdinand, who has returned to training, Smalling is involved in matches that are watched by millions.
"To be a part of a comeback like that and to sign the ball for one of the biggest players is incredible but I really feel like I'm playing my part," he said. "Everybody just sticks together and they were all over the moon in the dressing room. It shows the emphasis on things here, how we don't give up and it's paid off. I'm starting to get a feel of the club's never-say-die attitude and I don't think many other teams possess that."