Joleon Lescott has dismissed Tottenham Hotspur as an immediate threat in the race for the title and claimed Manchester City have the nerve to retain first place until the end of the season.
City moved three points clear of Manchester United with a slender win at the bottom club Wigan Athletic on Monday and play third-placed Tottenham at home on Sunday. Victory at the Etihad Stadium would give City an eight-point lead over Harry Redknapp's team who, according to United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, among others, are playing the finest football in the league and are genuine contenders for the championship.
Lescott does not dispute Spurs' involvement in what he claims is a three-horse title race but the City defender says pulling clear of United is the main concern for his club and that the reigning champions present the greatest threat to City's prospects of a first league crown since 1968.
Lescott said: "Beating Spurs would open up a big gap between us and them. No disrespect to Spurs but we see Man United as our main rivals because they're second in the league. We need to focus on the next team behind us and at this moment in time that's United. As much as the points are vital to create a gap between us and Spurs, it's more important to pull away from Man United.
"I wouldn't rule out Chelsea and Arsenal because of the experience they have in their squads but, on paper and points wise, you'd probably say it is between ourselves, United and Spurs. Maybe the neutrals want Spurs to win it rather than City or United but we're not getting involved in any of that. We're just here to do a job and hopefully win the league."
City recorded a remarkable 5-1 win at White Hart Lane back in August and, though Spurs have found some impressive form after an unfortunate start to the season, the absence of the striker Emmanuel Adebayor, whose loan deal prevents him from playing against his parent club, is welcomed by Lescott. "It's a good thing he can't play because on his day he's as good as anyone in the Premier League. But they'll bring in quality as well in [Roman] Pavlyuchenko and [Jermain] Defoe. It'll be a tough test still. It seems ages ago that we won 5-1 there but we don't need to look back on that performance. We're confident anyway."
Lescott was commanding as City withstood a late revival by Wigan at the DW Stadium to record a first win in three matches, having gone out of the FA Cup to United and lost the Carling Cup semi-final first leg to Liverpool. Far from a side wilting under pressure and from key absences, as those cup defeats may have indicated, the England defender says City, with five clean sheets in their last six league games, have the pedigree to win the title and have been bemused by reaction to their form.
"There was a lot made of our recent results," he said. "The performances were good but you get judged on results. But those results, no disrespect, were in cup competitions. As much as we want to win those cup competitions, we want to win the league more. Our main goal this season has always been the league – and still is – and our performances have been great in the league.
"The reaction has been crazy. None of the boys even thought about us cracking up or that something was going wrong. All of a sudden it's being said in papers or on TV that things are going wrong. We were like: 'Wow, we must have arrived if people want us to fail.' People were saying: 'They're cracking, they're feeling the pressure, they're not going to win the league.' We have only lost two cup games. But as we showed against Wigan it is not all about performances at this stage of the season."
Lescott also dismissed the theory that United's title-winning experience may prove decisive. "We've got the quality to win games and as long as we have that we can be champions. People say United have been there before but we've got the experience and quality to win games. That's the most important thing."