Darren Fletcher believes Manchester United's mid-season defensive injury crisis could have cost them the Premier League title.
The Red Devils go into their final game of the season at home to Stoke trailing leaders Chelsea by one point, with the Blues hosting Wigan at Stamford Bridge.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side were hit hard by significant woes with their backline, which left them with Patrice Evra as their only fit senior defender at one stage.
And Fletcher, who was pressed into action at the back alongside fellow midfielder Michael Carrick and rookie Ritchie De Laet in the 3-0 defeat at Fulham, feels that may prove to be the tipping point.
"Without those defensive injuries it could have been very different," Fletcher told MUTV.
"At one stage we had one fit defender in the squad. No team has been able to cope with that.
"We had three or four games in that position and ultimately it has cost us.
"If you are going to win the title in England you need a settled defence."
Fletcher knows the odds are stacked against United claiming an unprecedented fourth successive Premier League crown, but insists they will not give up the battle.
"Although it doesn't look great for us, we just have to win and hope Chelsea drop points," said Fletcher.
"It is going to take a lot but we can only concentrate on ourselves. At least we are still in there fighting."