After falling way behind Chelsea in the early months of the previous two campaigns, Sir Alex Ferguson left his players in no doubt they needed to be right in the chase over the festive period if they were to stand any chance of bringing the championship back to Old Trafford. Ferguson's words proved prophetic as, when Chelsea stumbled, United took advantage, opening a gap which was never fully closed as the Red Devils' status as England's number one side was confirmed last weekend. "For the last two years, we let the league go before Christmas," Ferdinand told Sky Sports News. "We had given ourselves a mountain to climb. But the boss said if you are there or thereabouts at Christmas, you have players of experience and the legs to go the distance - and it proved it." Ferdinand admitted he endured an anxious afternoon in front of the TV last Sunday as Chelsea mounted a defiant last stand at Arsenal. In the end though, Jose Mourinho's men could not find a late winner that would have kept them in contention, so Ferdinand was able to celebrate his second title since joining the Red Devils in a £29.1million move from Leeds in 2002. "For the last 20 minutes I was going bananas," he said. "Luckily enough we were champions. It was a fantastic feeling." Along with half-a-dozen senior colleagues, Ferdinand sat out Wednesday's draw with Chelsea as Ferguson kept his promise to give some of United's promising youngsters some big-game experience. However, the England defender will be back on Sunday as United take on his old club West Ham in a game that will have a massive bearing on the relegation dogfight. If West Ham can avoid defeat, they will definitely stay up. But a home win would leave Alan Curbishley's men relying on Wigan not winning at Sheffield United to preserve their top-flight status. Despite their close friendship, Ferguson has already warned Curbishley not to expect any favours and the United team is likely to be pretty close to the side which will start the FA Cup final against Chelsea on May 19. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo will all be involved, with the only doubt surrounding whether Ferguson decides to keep faith with Alan Smith or Darren Fletcher, both of whom started at Stamford Bridge.