By NEIL CUSTIS
NEMANJA VIDIC insists Manchester United will forget fantasy football to make sure they win the title at all costs.
It was case of gung-ho go for goals at times last season.
It thrilled the nation but left boss Alex Ferguson exasperated at times as they went on to lose the title on goal difference.
A year ago yesterday, the Red Devils were celebrating an 8-2 win over Arsenal. Two months later, they were licking their wounds after a 6-1 mauling by Manchester City as they chased the game.
Three 5-0 wins were mixed in with high-scoring draws, not to mention a 3-0 hammering at Newcastle.
Their failure to close out last April’s home game against Everton after being 4-2 up ultimately cost them the title in Fergie’s eyes.
But Red Devils captain Vidic says they have learned the lessons from all that and are ready to change.
Vidic said: “Sometimes the main thing is to play for three points, not just to enjoy games. We want to play great football but we want three points and we want the title. I think this year we understand that.”
To do that, Vidic says they have to up their game as rivals Manchester City will be flying from the confidence generated by their last-gasp glory.
The Serbian centre-back says it is already drilled into the United players’ mentality to bounce back and work hard to regain the Premier League trophy.
Vidic said: “I think sometimes when you win the title, the next year you have more confidence because you feel that you’re going to win it again.
“But when you don’t win the title, the next year is the one where you think ‘I have to push more, I have to work harder, I have to do better than last year.’
“And I think that’s the difference. This is how players think.
“We didn’t win it last year — now we really have to perform better. We have to work harder, stay strong as a group and play for each other.”
Vidic has returned to action after last season was wrecked by a knee injury. It has been a tough road back, with lengthy treatment and rehabilitation.
He said: “It’s hard not to play for eight months.
“It’s not hard to train and do the gym work because I know the benefits and I have a real desire to do well, whether I’m exercising or playing. It’s frustrating when you look at the players training, playing football and being involved in games.
“That’s what I missed.
“What drove me on was trying to come back and be the same as I was before the injury or even better, if possible.
“Obviously it was a long time but at first I had to focus on getting the leg right.
“After that I had some physical work to do. But I gave my best to recover as well as I could, so that when I came back I would be fit and competing every week — that was my target.”
Vidic lined up for the 1-0 defeat to Everton in United’s opening game on Monday of last week and Saturday’s 3-2 home win over Fulham, scoring an unfortunate own goal that gave the visitors hope.
He was playing without a regular centre-back partner — Michael Carrick filled in for the first two games because of injuries.
But Jonny Evans was on the bench for the Fulham game and is likely to start on Sunday at newly- promoted Southampton.
That will let Carrick back into a midfield which Tom Cleverley has been gracing again.
Cleverley also had last season wrecked by injury.
But Carrick believes the early promise we saw from Cleverley, now 23, is in evidence again and he can get only better.
Carrick said: “Tom’s got the talent and the ability. We’ve all seen that.
“He’s comfortable playing and dealing with the pressures that come with representing this club.
“He’s a very intelligent and clever footballer. It’s a shame the way his season panned out last year because he started so well.
“He’s still got a lot to bring, as we all do. That’s one of the good things about our midfielders — we all bring different things, when called upon which gives the manager a lot of different options.
“That’s vital given how many games we’re hoping to play this season.”