Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson saluted Edwin van der Sar after the Dutch goalkeeper set a new English goalkeeping record in Manchester United's 1-0 win over Everton on Saturday. Everton's failure to score by the 73rd minute at Old Trafford meant van der Sar had not been beaten for 1,104 minutes - nearly 18-and-a-half hours - which meant that the Dutch goalkeeper had broken the record set by Reading's Steve Death during the 1978-79 season.
United saw out the rest of the match to clinch a 12th successive cleansheet, moving five points clear of Chelsea and Liverpool. Ferguson has no doubt that the calming experience of Dutch keeper van der Sar, 38, is the key to United's rock-solid defence.
"Edwin van der Sar brings absolute calm and assurance to the players," Ferguson said. It's fantastic. I couldn't believe it when I read in the paper that the last goal we conceded was at Arsenal in November.
"Over the last 12 games we've repeatedly had to change the back four, which says a lot about everyone who has come in and done their job. But you have to give great credit to Edwin."
Ferguson admitted United should have wrapped up the game way before the end, but a series of missed chances meant they had to hold on to Cristiano Ronaldo's 44th-minute penalty, which was awarded for Mikel Arteta's foul on Michael Carrick.
"We had a lot of chances but we never put it to bed. Everton kept going, they showed a great resilience and took us right to the wire," Ferguson said. "It was inside the box and Arteta had brought him down. We should have had another one. It was a clear penalty. It was more of a penalty than the first one, but you aren't going to get two penalties."
With Liverpool and Chelsea meeting at Anfield on Sunday, United are now in a strong position to win the Premier League for a third successive season and Ferguson would love a draw between his title rivals.
"I'm hoping for a draw. We've got an advantage, that's all," he said. "We can't say it is a great advantage with the number of games we've got left. But we would rather be top of the league than anywhere else.
"The important thing is to keep the form going and keep winning. We have a very difficult game at West Ham next week. That's the way it is in this league. We just hope we don't drop as many as the rest."
United midfielder Carrick is convinced his team should take heart from the way they ground out another win and claimed there is even more to come."You aren't always going to get games when everything is going for you. The first half hour we played very well, but as the game went on, they made it difficult for us," Carrick said.
"We are happy with the 1-0 and another cleansheet. We had chances to score a few more. We can be satisfied with the points and there is still more to come from us."
"It was a soft penalty that won the game," Everton manager David Moyes said. "I thought it was a little bit unlucky. On some occasions it wouldn't have been given but it was this time."