Phelan - It's tough this time
Mike Phelan says the Premier League is now of a 'higher standard' after Man Utd's defeat by Aston Villa
By Danny Wright
Last Updated: 13/12/09 5:29pm
Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan admits the Premier League is a tougher division this season after his side's 1-0 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa.
Gabby Agbonlahor scored the decisive goal that confirmed his side's top-four credentials and ended United's 26-year unbeaten home record over Villa.
The defeat meant Sir Alex Ferguson's injury-ravaged side missed the opportunity to go joint top after title rivals Chelsea also dropped points at home to Everton.
The champions have looked unconvincing at Old Trafford this season, drawing with Sunderland and been run close by the likes of strugglers Bolton.
And Phelan conceded that wins were harder to come by compared to last season, when the title was wrapped up with a week to spare.
"The competition is of a higher standard this year," Phelan said. "There are a lot more good players about and plenty of good teams who are very well organised.
"There is nothing easy and every team will drop points. Nobody likes to lose but last week we were five points behind Chelsea, now it is three, so in that respect we are a little bit better off."
United have the chance to make amends for the disappointing result when they host Wolves in midweek.
Mick McCarthy's side will provide another tough test for Ferguson though, having put in a strong display in a 1-0 Carling Cup defeat earlier in the season.
The strugglers also go into the match on the back of a confidence-boosting win over Spurs at White Hart Lane, a result which no-one expected the Black Country club to pick up.
Ferguson is still ravaged by a lengthy injury list but defender Nemanja Vidic said his team-mates must lift themselves quickly ahead of the clash.
"We didn't have the patience in the last third of the field," said the Serb, who had a goalbound effort cleared off the line by Stewart Downing.
"Aston Villa defended well and were a handful up front. But Chelsea are still not too far from us.
"The gap is only three points. Thankfully the next match comes quickly, which is always important after a defeat.
"It gives you a quick chance to play better and fix what happened in the previous one."