KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— The angry memories of two men stands between Manchester City and their first English league championship in 44 years. But if Joey Barton and Mark Hughes are unable to withstand City’s ambition today then the title is likely to be decided on goal difference for the first time since Manchester United edged out Leeds in 1965.
With only Sunday’s matches remaining, Roberto Mancini’s City are level on points with Sir Alex Ferguson’s United but lead them by a decisive eight-goal difference.
More, while United go away to awkward Sunderland, City will be home in front of a capacity crowd at Eastlands facing ‘only’ the opposition of a Queens Park Rangers side who may need at least one point to ensure they survive among the elite.
Hence the faint hopes of both United and QPR rest with the hurt pride of QPR midfielder Barton and manager Hughes.
Barton, 29, is a talented but temperamental playmaker whose philosophical ramblings and burning honesty have earned him a huge following on Twitter; he was effectively forced out of City back in 2007 after one misdemeanour too many (both on and off the pitch).
Hughes, once an attacking hero of United under Ferguson, was sacked by City in December 2009 in the most humiliating way: fans listening to their radios around the ground knew he was on his way out while he was still directing City from the touchline during a game against Sunderland.
Barton, QPR’s captain, said: “I can’t wait for this game. They expect probably to thrash us and go on to win the league. If that is their attitude then they will get a reality check. We have got our confidence back and we know we are masters of our own destiny.”
The size of the task awaiting QPR is such that Ferguson has said he wishes Hughes were still playing so he could lead the battle charge himself rather than direct operations from the touchline.
Ferguson said: “QPR will be fighting for survival. The whole future of their club could be resting on the game and I only wish Sparky were playing. But Mark knows his job all right. He was sacked by City in a very unethical way and he’ll remember that.
“City are red-hot favourites but we’ve won the title on three occasions on the last day and we don’t mind doing it again. Stranger things have happened in this game of football.”
Addressing fans last Sunday after the win over Swansea which was United’s last home game of the season, Ferguson urged fans to prepare for “the biggest celebration of their lives” at Sunderland. But he has conceded that City “probably have two hands on the trophy.”
Ferguson expects Rio Ferdinand to have recovered from minor muscle injuries in time for Sunderland but Chris Smalling is out not only of this match but for Euro 2012..
As for City, their confidence has been expressed by Yaya Toure, their two-goal match-winner last weekend at Newcastle. The Ivory Coast midfielder said: “Khaldoon [Al Mubarak, City chairman] and Sheikh Mansour (owner) are doing incredibly well. They have signed big players and they want to make this club a great club, one of the best clubs in Europe, and they are going the right way.
“Last year, we won the FA Cup and we have to continue like that. We know it’s going to be tough but I believe in this team, I believe in the players we have. We have some fantastic players. I I came to this club to make history and that is my first objective.”
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