Manchester United defender Chris Smalling is hoping to make a big impact in 2012 after a frustrating end to the year at Old Trafford.
The young England international fell ill towards the end of last year, joining a host of other players on the sidelines with tonsillitis - his second spell out of action after missing six weeks between September and October.
However, the 22-year-old is poised to return to action against Arsenal this weekend, and admits that spirits are high in the camp after the FA Cup derby victory over 'noisy neighbours' Manchester City.
"The biggest thing it did was give us a morale boost at a time when people were starting to write us off," Smalling told the official Manchester United website when asked about the importance of the win.
"Instead of crumbling we went to City and beat them on their home turf, even if we made hard work of it in the second half. Winning that game showed a lot of character."
Smalling did admit that United's form in the last month had been somewhat uncharacteristic, with the champions falling to some shock defeats in the race for the title.
The loss to Blackburn was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Sir Alex Ferguson's Red Devils, with defeat to Newcastle also adding to the pressure.
"We knew the Christmas period was going to be tough and we did well against QPR, Fulham and Wigan. But we were gutted to get beaten by Blackburn on New Year’s Eve and then Newcastle a few days later," he added.
"The win at Manchester City in the FA Cup has given us a lift, so we hope now we can kick on because there are some big games to come."
The defeats have led to questions over United's title credentials, despite the team having more points than at the same stage last season.
And Smalling has no problem with the doubters raising their voice, because winning the league and being at the top of the table is the only barometer of success for United.
"We’re behind City in the league and expectations of this club – from both inside and out – are massive," concluded Smalling.
"If we’re not on top then everybody’s asking why. Rightly so, too. Finishing second with more points than we collected last season won’t make us feel any better about ourselves. The only objective is to win the league."
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