LONDON: Manchester City claimed the ultimate payback for a staggering outlay of £1.5bn when they hit back from the brink of disaster to beat 10-men QPR 3-2 with two goals in stoppage time at Eastlands and won the league title for the first time in 44 years.
This was the sweetest possible triumph because City edged out neighbours and 2011 champions Manchester United on goal difference, the first time the title had been decided that way since United he pipped Leeds all the way back in 1965. Both clubs ended with 89 points, in United’s case the first time a club has reached that total and not won the title.
Back in 1999 when Manchester United pipped Bayern Munich in stoppage time in the Champions League Final in Barcelona, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had exploded: “Football? Bloody hell!”
This was another of those “bloody hell” moments but the greatest British club manager of all was on the wrong end of it.
City’s success was a personal triumph for manager Roberto Mancini who has now claimed two trophies with City to add to the seven he had collected with Internazionale in his native Italy. Mancini had taken over at City after Mark Hughes was sacked at Christmas 2009 but Hughes was also a winner of sorts at Eastlands: his QPR survived because Bolton had ‘only’ drawn at Stoke.
All matches kicked off simultaneously on this last day with City and United level on points but with City holding an eight-goal advantage on goal difference. As long as City won then victory for United at Sunderland would not be enough: Ferguson’s men would have needed to outscore City on the day by an impossible eight goals.
Even speculation about how both clubs would attack the transfer market was set to one side amid the title-fight contention. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had attended the German cup final on Saturday to watch Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa but that barely rated a mention in the match-focused media.
City dominated the opening 20 minutes against QPR without scoring but then United took control in Sunderland with Wayne Rooney’s 34th goal of the season and 27th in the league.
Back at Eastlands City’s initial failure to turn possession into goals ended in the 39th minute when they scored, at last, through Pablo Zabaleta. City and their Argentina fullback owed the goal and their retrun to top spot to a terrible piece of goalkeeping by Paddy Kenny.
City were back on top of the table at half-time and, apparently, poised for glory.
Amazingly, however, three minutes into the second half, QPR pulled level from virtually their first chance of the match. Zabaleta failed to control a hopeful cross from City old boy Shaun Wright-Phillips and Djibril Cisse struck his sixth goal of the half-season since he arrived on loan from Lazio.
United were on top.
Back at Eastlands temperatures rose further after a brawl was sparked on the hour by a clash between Tevez and ex-City playmaker Joey Barton. Referee Mike Dean showed a red card to Barton who prompted further mayhem as, on leaving the pitch, he attacked Samir Nasri and Vincent Kompany. For the ninth time this season QPR were down to 10 men.
Now, apparently, the title opportunity had been handed to City on a plate. Yet, incredibly, the next goal came from QPR whose Jamie Mackie headed a cross from Armand Traore past England keeper Joe Hart.
United, missing chance after chance at Sunderland, were apparently heading for glory . . . until stoppage time in Eastlands when Edin Dzeko equalized and Sergio Aguero grabbed the winner.
The Sky Blue dream had come true.