United now requires just seven points from its final six games to win the title and wrestle it back from neighbor City.
Ferguson told Sky Sports: ""If we were starting the season today, with seven games left, would we fancy ourselves to win the league? That was the point of it.
"Not looking back or looking at the points we got or the goal difference. It's to start the season today.
"The players deserve all the credit for the battling performance they gave.
"The character of the team is showing. They went out on the pitch with that and got the result they deserved."
In the day's other Premier League game, Sunderland produced a memorable performance to claim a 3-0 win at fierce foe Newcastle.
Manager Paolo Di Canio led the celebrations as goals from Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan propelled Sunderland three points clear of the drop zone.
And the 44-year-old Italian took time to dedicate the victory to his late mother, who passed away exactly one year ago yesterday.
Di Canio asked reporters: "Can I tell you something?
"Sometimes, some special things have to remain inside yourself. It's not good to share with others because it's very deep inside yourself.
"But I believe in this thing. Before the kick off, I saw the face of my Mama smiling. Exactly yesterday, it was one year since she passed away.
"Exactly one year ago, there was the same situation. I was in the dug-out the day after she passed away and we won the game -- I was at Swindon -- and today, it has happened again.
"For this, I have to thank not only my Mama, otherwise my Dad - he is next to her, but today, he is going to be upset.
"But Dad, Mama was special today, so my dedication goes to her today, to my Mam."
In Spain, league leader Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win at Real Zaragoza with two goals from Cristian Tello and a strike from Thiago Alcantara doing the damage.
Barca sits 13 points clear of Real Madrid, which also won 3-0 with two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a strike from Gonzalo Higuain seeing off Atheltic Bilbao.
Meanwhile, Radamel Falcao scored twice as third place Atletico Madrid cruised to a 5-0 win over Granada, while Real Sociedad's Imanol Agirretxe kept his side's push for Champions League football on track.
Agirretxe scored both goals as Sociedad overcame Rayo Vallecano 2-0 to open up a four point gap between itself and fifth place Malaga.
In Italy, third-place Milan drew 1-1 with second place Napoli in a result which does neither team any good in their pursuit of league leader Juventus.
Mathieu Flamini gave Milan a 30th minute lead only for Goran Pandev to equalize three minutes later.
Flamini was later sent off with 18 minutes to go but Napoli was unable to force a winner and remains in second, nine points off the top.
Elsewhere, Inter Milan suffered a 2-0 defeat at Cagliari as it slumped to a third loss in four games.
Mauricio Pinilla scored twice to leave Inter's hope of qualifying for next season's Champions League in jeopardy.
Ten-man Roma picked up all three points at Torino courtesy of a 2-1 victory.
Pablo Osvaldo and Erik Lamela got the goals before Federico Balzaretti was sent off after receiving a second yellow card.