United’s reign as Barclays Premier League champions is over, despite a battling victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, as Manchester City took the title on goal difference in the cruellest of fashions.
Wayne Rooney’s early header ensured the Reds ended the season on 89 points, and it looked as though Sir Alex’s men were destined for an unlikely triumph as City struggled against 10-man QPR at the Etihad Stadium.
The Blues trailed 2-1 going into injury-time, only for quickfire strikes from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero to end City’s 44-year wait to become champions. In a remarkable turnaround, United were champions when the game finished at the Stadium of Light, only for City’s late comeback to snatch the title a minute later.
City’s win over Mark Hughes’ side meant the only other way United could retain the title was by bagging double figures against the Black Cats. Though a handful of chances went begging, Rooney’s early header was the only time Sir Alex Ferguson’s side beat Simon Mignolet.
There was a surprise starter in the United ranks, as Jonny Evans rejoined Rio Ferdinand in the centre of defence, despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s confirmation that the Northern Ireland international would require ankle surgery over the summer.
Despite United’s greater need and obvious urgency in possession, it was the hosts who had the first two efforts of the game. James McClean’s dribbling effort forced little work from David De Gea, who was exercised harder by David Vaughan’s powerful effort from 25 yards.
Though Sunderland looked menacing on the break, United’s pressure gradually began to tell. Antonio Valencia worked his way past former Reds defender John O’Shea and squared for Rooney, whose shot was blocked by Michael Turner.
Giggs’ floated corner was reached by Phil Jones ahead of Mignolet, but the England defender’s header agonisingly cleared the crossbar and dropped onto the roof of the net. Jones atoned within two minutes, however, as he teed up the game’s opening goal.
The ball was worked wide to the Reds’ right-back and, as Sunderland sat deep, he curled in a magnificent deep ball which Rooney stooped to nod inside Mignolet’s post, sending the small but strident band of travelling supporters wild – especially with the scoreline still blank at the Etihad Stadium.
Just before the half-hour, United twice came close to doubling their lead. First, Mignolet showed sharp reflexes to beat away Giggs’ prodded effort, before Rooney floated a beautiful free-kick onto the top of the crossbar from just outside the area.
Having equalled his personal best season tally of 34 goals with the opener, Rooney was in the mood to embellish his haul – and he really should have done in the 34th minute. Impressive approach play from Valencia teed up Young, and the winger’s shot should have been swept in by Rooney, who somehow scuffed his effort off-target.
Sunderland quickly rallied, buoyed on by an increasingly tetchy home support, and might have drawn level when Fraizer Campbell stretched to volley goalwards. He could only skew his effort comfortably wide. The Stadium of Light was engulfed by cheers, however, when news filtered through that Pablo Zabaleta had put City ahead at the Etihad Stadium.
While the news was a blow to United’s hopes of retaining the title, it didn’t affect the pattern of play on the field. Valencia almost added a second goal in added time at the end of the first half, but his powerful shot deflected straight into Mignolet’s midriff.
The Belgian stopper was called into action soon after the start of the second period, as a pair of lovely flicks from Giggs and Young culminated in the latter releasing Rooney, whose thunderous close-range effort thudded off Mignolet and away to safety.
Events for United hinged entirely on how City were faring at the Etihad Stadium, and as news filtered through that QPR – despite the sending-off of Joey Barton – had moved into the lead.
As United dared to dream, Sunderland rallied and applied plenty of pressure on the visitors. The Reds were also threatening, however, with every forward foray, and Young looked certain to double the Reds’ advantage until his powerful volley was deflected wide by Michael Turner.
A tense game continued apace, with United still seeking a killer second goal to tie up their end of the bargain. A brilliantly-worked move involving Young and Rooney released Scholes just outside the Sunderland area, only for Turner to cynically halt his progress at the expense of a booking.
Though Giggs curled the subsequent free-kick into the wall, both he and Scholes came close to doubling United’s lead with 15 minutes remaining. Scholes’ 20-yard effort thudded back into play off the upright, and Giggs’ thunderous rebound from the edge of the area was spectacularly tipped over by the flying Mignolet.
United’s job was simple: see out the final 10 minutes without conceding and, if possible, add further gloss to the scoreline. Rooney came agonisingly close in the final minute with a free-kick that kissed the outside of Mignolet’s post.
There were no further chances at the Stadium of Light, but crucially City managed to manufacture two more at the Etihad and bagged injury-time goals to wrench the title back and bag their third league title.
Proud to be a Red and will always be!!!
Glory Glory ManUnited
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