Today, the English Premier League treated soccer fans to the most dramatic final day in its 20 year history. First, the important news. Everton defeated Newcastle 3-1 to clinch a better finish (seventh place) than that of arch-rival Liverpool (eighth place).
Now, for the secondary stuff.
Going into today, Manchester City and Manchester United were tied for first place. However, City, the more talented side, had a much better goal difference, and this is the tie-breaker. Thus, a City victory would enable United’s “noisy neighbors” to win their first title in 44 years.
To make City’s prospects even better, they would play at home against lowly Queens Part Rangers (QPR). City’s home record stood at 17 wins, no defeats, and one draw. Away from home QPR had three wins, 13 defeats, and one draw. United, meanwhile, would play a decent Sunderland side on the road.
Fortunately for United, QPR had plenty to play for. They needed at least a draw to ensure their Premier League survival at the expense of Bolton. In addition, QPR’s manager Mark Hughes, a former United great, had been fired unceremoniously by City in the middle of the 2009-2010 season. Moreover, the QPR starting line-up featured several former City players, including the fiery, thuggish, but often influential Joey Barton.
Manchester United scored first, through Wayne Rooney in the 20th minute. If nothing changed, the crown would be United’s.
Meanwhile, consistent with its recent pattern of play, Manchester City was seeing plenty of the ball and applying decent pressure, but its star attackers lacked a little bit of sharpness. Indeed, it was right back Pablo Zabaleta who finally broke the deadlock for City, six minutes before half time on a shot the QPR keeper probably should have saved.
In the entire first half, QPR had put only one shot on target, and the idea that they would score on City in the remaining 45 minues, seemed like a long shot. But early in the second half, former Everton defender Joleon Lescott horribly under-hit a header towards his own keeper, and Djibril Cisse punished City with the equalizer.
United, meanwhile, had squandered several scoring opportunities, but looked comfortable at 1-0 ahead. City could not count on Sunderland; they probably would need to score.
City’s prospects of doing so turned from good to great in the 58th minute, when QPR’s Joey Barton – the Metta World Peace of the EPL – was ejected on a straight red card for senselessly elbowing a City player. Before leaving, he kicked another City player. May his suspension extend well into next season.
But it was QPR, playing 10 against 11, who scored next, just eight minutes after Barton’s dismissal. Now City would need two goals to claim the crown, unless Sunderland managed to score against United.
I reckoned that the odds still favored City, though, given the difficulty of playing a man down against a great attacking team during the final half hour or so of a match. But QPR dug in, and at the end of 90 minutes of regular time, still held the 2-1 lead. Man U, meanwhile, was finishing off a characteristic, workman-like 1-0 win at Sunderland.
All that remained was stoppage time. Fortunately for City, there would be five minutes of it, due to the delay that occurred when Barton contentiously left the field of play.
City tied the score in the second minute of the stoppage time on a header by substitute Edin Dzeko, via a corner kick. QPR would now kick off and, surely, run time off of the clock.
But instead, QPR kicked the ball aimlessly towards the City goal, ceding possession and seemingly inviting the home team to come at them. This City did, with renewed conviction.
Now, it was all over at Sunderland, where United looked poised to celebrate an improbable defense of their EPL crown. In Manchester, the match was just about to enter the final minute of stoppage time.
Then, substitute Mario Bolatelli, City’s bad-boy prodigy, picked out Sergio “Kun” Aquero and the Argentine striker side-footed home the winning goal.
After 44 years, a Blue Moon finally rose in Manchester.
Things worked out for Queens Park Rangers too. A late goal by Stoke City deprived Bolton of the victory they needed to overhaul QPR. After their valiant performance today, it would have been sad to see QPR drop out of the EPL.
QPR’s survival means that all three of the teams promoted to the EPL at the end of last season avoid the drop. That’s unusual, but nothing compared to seeing Manchester City claim the crown.