CITY 3 QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2
Barclays Premier League
13th May 2012
Scorers City Zabaleta(39), Dzeko(91), Aguero(94) QPR Cisse(48), Mackie(66)
Ref Mike Dean
It was 44 years and 2 days since the great Bell, Lee, Summerbee, Young, et al last lifted the Championship, and just like in 1968 City went into the final game of the season equal on points with Manchester United. The team of 2012 had an eight goal advantage on United, however, and with The Reds away at Sunderland and City at home to relegation threatened QPR, all the Blues needed to do was at least match Ferguson’s team’s result to win their first Premier League title.
A record crowd at the Etihad were in party mood before the game in anticipation of what they thought would be a nailed on victory.
The game started as was expected with City on the attack from the first minute, and despite Mark Hughes’ comments before the game that they would be looking to attack City, it certainly wasn’t the case, as his Rangers’ team parked the biggest proverbial bus in front of their goal from the first whistle.
Despite virtually having all the ball in the first 20 minutes, Mancini’s team managed just one genuine chance on goal, a David Silva snapshot which Paddy Kenny collected at his near post.
News then came through that Wayne Rooney had scored at Sunderland and then further bad news followed as Yaya Toure pulled up in agony with, what looked like, a pulled hamstring, for the first time there were murmurings in the Etihad crowd that perhaps it wasn’t going to be City’s day after all.
The big Ivorian left the pitch for treatment and soon returned to the action but was plainly struggling to walk never mind run, however in his last contribution to the game Yaya managed to find Pablo Zabaleta in the box, the Argentinian defender smashed a shot at goal, Kenny got a strong hand to the ball, but not strong enough, as the ball looped over him, hit the woodwork and crept over the line. City were 1-0 up in the 39th minute and the City fans went crazy. Surely now the team would go on to score three or four and the title would be ours
There was deathly silence from the City fans, and it was the turn of the Rangers fans to celebrate as they knew a draw would see them to safety in league. Surely City could find another goal for the fans and they continued to attack the Rangers massed defence. And in the 55th minute an eagle eyed linesman gave City some hope, As the ball was being passed in front of the QPR defence Carlos Tevez fell to the ground holding his face. Mr Dean conferred with his linesman who confirmed that former City midfielder Joey Barton had elbowed Tevez. The red card was shown to Barton immediately, but the serial bad boy of football wasn’t going to leave the field that easily, the red mist had struck and he proceeded to try and take one of the City team with him, he cowardly kneed Sergio Aguero in the back of the leg and then stupidly attempted to head butt Vincent Kompany, he had to be manhandled off the pitch and still tried to pick a fight with substitute Balotelli as he was marched off. Could City now take advantage of having the extra man? QPR defended like their lives depended on it and Paddy Kenny made a couple of excellent saves as The Blues piled on the pressure, the fans urging them on. Inexplicably in the 66th minute QPR broke forward in a rare attack and Jamie Mackie headed in from substitute Traore’s cross, QPR were 2-1 up, it had all gone wrong for City, the City fans were stunned, they thought after the FA Cup final win last season they had at last thrown away the mantle of ‘typical City’ but perhaps it had never gone away. Mancini was distraught,
angry and animated on the sideline he desperately threw on Edin Dzeko, and then Mario Balotelli to try and salvage the game. However in the last five minutes of normal time, Paddy Kenny pulled off two fantastic saves to thwart City as they entered five minutes of added on time. Myself and most of the rest of the crowd were in a state of disbelief and tears were flowing as we realised we weren’t going to win the league and, just as bad, we had handed the 20th title to United.… but wait a minute Dzeko has scored! City had won another corner and Edin Dzeko had risen like a salmon to meet David Silva’s cross one minute into added time and from just a couple of yards he headed in the equaliser, was it just a consolation goal? In the 93rd minute the news came over that United’s game had finished 1-0 and the Reds at Sunderland thought they had won the title. 30 seconds later, the ball was played into the QPR box by Sergio Aguero, as he fell to the floor Mario Balotelli managed to toe the ball back into Aguero’s path and evading a strong challenge he dispatched the ball past Kenny and the stadium exploded. In the greatest end to a game in the greatest end to a Premier League Season ever City had won the holy grail. Martin Tyler, in his Sky Sports commentary, summed it all up “I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again”
As QPR kicked off they knew Bolton had failed to win at Stoke and so they were safe. They simply punted the ball out of play. The ball was thrown in to Joe Hart. And then Mike Dean blew the final whistle which sparked wild scenes of celebration as fans ran on to the pitch and the outpouring of emotion in the ground could be felt by the world watching on. Once the pitch was cleared, fittingly, Mike Summerbee and Tony Book brought the trophy on to the field and it was presented to Barclays Premier League player of the year Vincent Kompany, and the crowd went wild once again.
FROM THE PRESS BOX
To the unconstrained joy of their fans, Manchester City won the Premier League title in stoppage-time, in so-called ‘Fergie time’. Just as ignominy was about to engulf City, they struck twice in 125 seconds, the final two goals of this epic season proving the most decisive as they wrested the trophy away from Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp. The noisy neighbours were staging a wild party. This was the greatest climax to the title race since Arsenal’s 1989 triumph at Anfield when Michael Thomas drove through Liverpool’s defence as Brian Moore intoned “it’s up for grabs now”. This was an amazing switchback journey for City fans, who knew from long, painful experience that their beloved club would never give them an easy ride. City drained every ounce of emotion from their support, taking the fuel-gauge down to empty, the team running on fumes until that astonishing denouement. Trailing 2-1 to QPR, and with United leading at Sunderland, City fans were beginning to stream out of the ground. One shell-shocked woman stumbled past the press box, looking like she had just climbed from the wreckage of a car crash. Others walked past, shuffling by like mourners at a funeral. A father led his son out. This was too much heartache for one so young to bear. All hope was gone, they thought. United seemed destined to be champions again. Why always them? What happened next will linger long in the memories, hearts and scrapbooks of City fans. What happened next defied belief. When Edin Dzeko headed in with the clock showing 91 min 15 sec, the Etihad dared to dream. Hold on. Game on. Title race back on. Then word filtered through that United had won. City had to score. News followed from the Britannia that Bolton Wanderers had failed to secure the win they required to overtake QPR. City’s guests were safe. They appeared to relax. City went for the jugular. Sergio Agüero went through the middle, exchanging passes with an off-balance Mario Balotelli, then shooting from right to left past Paddy Kenny, a shot that reverberated across town and rang out around the world. The clock showed 93 min 20 sec. Agüero wheeled away, twirling his shirt above his head like Ryan Giggs at Villa Park in 1999, although with rather less chest foliage. According to City’s captain Vincent Kompany, tears were rolling down Agüero’s face as his team-mates caught up with him, all leaping on top of him. As this merry mound of blue-shirted humanity writhed on the ground, Joe Hart was running around his half, arms outstretched. Roberto Mancini raced along the touchline, resembling an elegant commuter rushing for the last train. He hugged David Platt as City’s backroom staff poured on to the pitch. A few fans leapt the hoardings, running to shake Hart’s hand. The “chokers’’ headlines were ripped up, replaced with “champions”. When some semblance of order was restored, Mike Dean restarted the game but not for long. His final whistle sounded like a starting pistol for many City fans, who jumped on to the pitch, a wave of emotion that had been building for 44 years. Then came the anthems spilling out of the Etihad speakers, triggering a real sing-song, first Blue Moon then We are the Champions. The pitch then cleared quicker than the hangovers will. Two legends from City’s golden era, Tony Book and Mike Summerbee, emerged from the tunnel, distinguished men bearing distinguished cargo: the Premier League trophy. Mancini strode out, his usual City scarf replaced by an Italian flag knotted round his neck. His players followed, all wearing “Champions” shirts. Some were casually attired, Nigel de Jong wearing flip-flops. Some had dressed up, Gaël Clichy even spraying his hair blue. Kompany lifted the trophy towards skies that turned blue for the occasion and the party really got started. Mancini showed an impressive turn of pace to escape those who wanted to soak him in champagne. The players and their families paraded around the pitch. The whole stadium joined in as Oasis’ Wonderwall blasted out.
City were champions. Maybe? Definitely. The journey towards nirvana had been slow and difficult. The 90 minutes will mostly be forgotten as history celebrates stoppage-time. City’s fans had started in good mood, waving their banners declaring them to be “Noisy Neighbours” and “Loud, Proud, Loyal” and guided by the “Spirit of 68”. If anything, it had a feel of a testimonial, rather than an impassioned tilt for the title. Beach balls and inflatable bananas were lobbed around. Blue and white ticker tape streamed down. The bonhomie spread to the QPR fans when news came through that Bolton trailed at Stoke. As QPR supporters smiled, scowls soon etched the face of their City counterparts. Wayne Rooney had scored at the Stadium of Light. Dark thoughts raced through City minds. These were frustrating times. City were in control, enjoying the ball’s company for 81 per cent of the game. Mark Hughes’s side were defending too deep. Even their two strikers Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cissé spent more time defending their area than attacking City’s. The pressure had to tell, though. Yaya Toure was clearly in pain, hobbling with a hamstring injury, but the Ivorian still managed to play his part as City took the lead on the cusp of half-time, ushering Pablo Zabaleta through on an angled run at goal.
Kenny made a complete hash of the save, pushing the ball up, on to the post and in. City fans were in party mood, in Poznan mood, celebrating manically a goal by a player brought to the Etihad by Hughes. As the players walked out for the second half, a City fan stood at the stop of a stairwell, offering his lucky stone for his peers to rub. There were many takers. Their luck seemed out. Joleon Lescott, who has performed so diligently for City in recent months, made a rare error, misdirecting a header and Cissé swooped, drilling QPR level. Now it was the visitors’ turn to do the Poznan. This was the English soap opera writ large. A familiar pantomime villain even made an appearance after 56 minute. Joey Barton claimed that Carlos Tévez started the contretemps, yet nothing forgave his response, an elbow that sent the Argentine tumbling. The assistant referee, Andy Garratt, signalled to Dean and the forces of footballing law and order closed on Barton. Dean walked across to him, lifting the red card. Barton’s response was splenetic, the midfielder taking a walk on the wild side, kneeing Agüero, attempting to butt Kompany and trying to get at Mario Balotelli. Blessed are the peacemakers; Micah Richards intervened, joining Eddie Niedzwiecki in shepherding Barton towards the tunnel. A long ban awaits, including three for the red, one for his second of the season and three more for violent conduct against Agüero.
Hughes acted, sacrificing Cissé. Armand Traoré galloped on and immediately had an impact, racing down the left, outstripping Kompany and crossing for Jamie Mackie to head the visitors ahead after 67 minutes. Facing humiliation,
Mancini sent on Dzeko for Gareth Barry, then Balotelli for Tévez. Some fans left. Most stayed, chanting: “We’re Manchester City; we’ll fight to the end”. They were true to their word. Some showdown, some season.
HERY WINTER WRITING FOR THE THE TELEGRAPH 13H MAY 2012