On 26th May 1989, the English football witnessed it’s most spectacular finale to a season. Arsenal travelled to Anfield and had to win by two goals to win the league. Thanks to an Alan Smith header, the visitors were 1-0 up in the second half. After the 90 minutes was up and the game moved into injury-time, John Barnes (who has since then blamed himself for not running down the clock) lost the ball in the opposition’s penalty area resulting in Arsenal launching an immediate but measured assault deep into the Liverpool half culminating in Michael Thomas beating Steve Nicol and running through on goal. Fans across the country still remember the late Brian Moore’s commentary as the midfielder charged towards Bruce Grobbelaar. “Thomas! It’s up for grabs now….” Thomas cooly slotted home and Arsenal triumphed 2-0, winning the title in dramatic fashion at Anfield.
Fast forward almost 23 years. The Manchester giants of City and United were tied on points going into the final game of the season but City had a healthier goal difference. The synopsis was quite simple. City needed to beat QPR to guarantee winning the league. After Pablo Zabaleta opened the scoring in the 39th minute life was good for Man City fans. But the Londoners struck back through Djibril Cisse after half-time to silence the Etihad faithful. Barely ten minutes later, Joey Barton disgraced himself and let his team mates down, by elbowing Carlos Tevez. After receiving his marching orders he decided to kick out at Sergio Aguero. Cue the aggressors and peacemakers. Astonishingly, after order had been restored and QPR had been reduced to ten men, Jamie Mackie headed QPR into a 2-1 lead. City supporters had their heads in the hands, especially as United were 1-0 up against Sunderland. Roberto Mancini was furiously barking orders from the touchline, frantically trying to inject some order into his Blue army.
Some City fans made their way to the exits, as they could not bear to watch their beloved City fall at the last hurdle. They hadn’t read the script. Closing in towards the end of the 90 minutes, the fourth official showed that there was five minutes of injury-time to be played, as a result of Barton’s dismissal. In the 92nd minute, Edin Dzeko lost his marker at a corner and out jumped another to head City level, but it still was not enough for City. United, at that stage were Champions as the full-time whistle sounded at Sunderland. City had three minutes to find another goal. It was a platform for a great moment. So, appropriately, the man who married Diego Maradona’s daughter and cost City £40m last summer, Sergio Aguero, stepped up. He started the move deep inside QPR’s half. “They’ve got to get on with this pretty quickly! Aguero…looking for the one-two…. AGUERO!!!”
The Argentine played a one-two with Italian Mario Balotelli before rifling in City’s winner. He wheeled away in a shirtless celebration in an explosion of total euphoria. In the space of three stoppage time minutes, City were down and out and then all of a sudden, league champions for the first time in 44 years.
Incredible scenes. A fantastic advertisement for the game we love. Without doubt, this was the best finale since Michael Thomas’ heroics in 1989. Undoubtedly and inexplicably, United choked after topping the league by eight points in April. This is a feat which will not sit well with Sir Alex. A defeat to Wigan followed by a home draw against Everton after leading 4-2 put City back in striking range. United’s lacklustre display against City resulted in a 1-0 win for City which put them above their neighbours on goal difference. A difficult trip to Champions League hopefuls Newcastle was successfully negotiated meaning that a home win, against QPR, on 13th May would seal a third league title for City. City most certainly did it the hard way but in Mancini’s eyes, they deserved it. “We have beaten United two times, we have scored more than them and conceded less so we deserve it. I never gave up. It was a crazy finish to the game and the season but the best team won the title.”
Mancini, a Serie A winner with Sampdoria as a player, was draped in an Italian flag when interviewed. He added, “I have never known a moment like this when we scored those two goals and I am so proud of my players because they wanted to win this title so much. They wanted to win this title until the last minute of the season and they proved it here. To beat a strong team like United is fantastic. We have changed the history of this club and for that we should be proud. We deserved this and so do all our supporters.”
Rightly or wrongly, there will be criticisms aimed at City due to their spending power, but for now they deserve applause and credit for taking their part in making the last day of the season, the most exciting the Premiership has ever seen.
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