The blue half of Manchester had endured a 44-year hiatus from holding English football’s premier trophy but Manchester United’s so-called noisy neighbours turned the amplifiers up to 11 on a tumultuous final day of the 2011/12 Premier League campaign. But boy did they make hard work of it.
The mathematics for Manchester City before their game against QPR was simple. Victory would have secured them the Premier League crown (barring a landslide victory by Manchester United against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light). QPR knew that they needed only a draw to maintain their Premier League existence and, as one might have expected, City dominated the early exchanges.
However, they were unable to break through a stout QPR resistance until the 39th minute when an incisive move down the City right-hand side ended with a stab towards goal by Pablo Zabeleta. Paddy Kenny, the QPR goalkeeper, didn’t cover himself in glory with his attempt at saving the shot which looped high into the air and into the net. Given City had dropped only two points in their previous 17 home league games and QPR had the worst away form of all the Premier League clubs, the writing appeared on the wall. But nobody could have foreseen how the drama was to unfold.
In the 48th minute a poor header from Joleon Lescott fell at the feet of Djibril Cisse who lashed the ball past Joe Hart in the City goal to bring parity to the proceedings. Seven minutes later QPR’s captain, Joey Barton, was shown a red card following an off-the-ball incident that was seen by the assistant referee. Replays revealed Barton had inexplicably elbowed Carlos Tevez in an act that the QPR player later confirmed as retribution for an initial blow initiated by the Argentine striker.
With Manchester United taking an early lead at Sunderland, City knew they needed another goal to tip the balance their way. That task was made all the more difficult when a rare foray into the City half by Armand Traore saw Jamie Mackie head the full-back’s deep cross past a despairing Joe Hart. With only 25 minutes remaining the tension inside the Etihad Stadium was palpable and City’s quest for two goals was repelled time and time again by the compact and narrow defensive unit of QPR. The end of match statistics showed that City had attempted 44 shots, won 19 corners and held 81% of possession.
With the game drifting into injury time and the score still at 1-2 it seemed that City’s dominance was to go unrewarded.
Roberto Mancini had replaced Gareth Barry with Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli had replaced the ineffectual Carlos Tevez. Both substitutes were to play an integral part in the injury-time drama. First, Dzeko rose highest to nod home a David Silva corner and then, only two minutes and five seconds later, a stumbling Balotelli showed admirable determination when he prodded the ball through to Sergio Aguero who rode the desperate challenge of Nedum Onuoha before firing the ball past Paddy Kenny and sparking scenes of delirium throughout the stadium and across the city.
The tears of despair and had been transformed into tears of joy. The match in Sunderland had ended two minutes earlier with victory for United and whilst their players applauded the fans who had travelled to the north-east the dramatic events back in Manchester were unfolding and the title had been wrested from United in the cruellest but most extraordinary manner.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, was gracious in defeat insisting that City deserved the title and even the staunchest of United fans must conclude that over 38 games City had been the better team. Both teams will surely strengthen their roster over the summer months and a mouth-watering 2012/12 season awaits.