Date: 14th May 2012 at 11:50pm
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Beaten at the death

90 minutes. Although many among the Manchester United faithful believed that little was to come of the final day of the season, in which Manchester City found themselves at the summit of the league on goal difference, what fans, opposition and neutrals alike got was a roller-coaster ride of emotion and drama, unmatched by any other football league elsewhere this year. United fans though, may have wished for a more straightforward path towards the eventual conclusion, rather than the heart stopping moments they got, as the title race eventually came down to a moment of 100 seconds or so. Still, there had to be hope as Sir Alex Ferguson set his side out to do their bit, to give themselves the best chance of any kind of success, if there were to be any slip ups at the Etihad. 

United lined up with David De Gea in goal, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans partnered centrally, with Patrice Evra and Phil Jones taking positions out wide. In midfield, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes played in the centre of the park, while Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia took position out wide. Finally, up front, Wayne Rooney was leading the line.  United started the game on the front foot, controlling proceedings but without finding a clear way through. Sunderland made every effort to organise themselves and prevent United being presented with an opportunity to take the lead.

20 minutes in, and United got the break they wanted, as the ball was worked out to the right, with Phil Jones taking it and delivering a cross to Rooney, who was able to nod home and give his side a 0-1 lead and send United top of the table, but for how long? As nails were bitten in both stadia, the next change at the top would occur merely 20 minutes later as City took the lead against Queens Park Rangers as the scores stayed with one goal in them going in at half time. Barely minutes had gone by at the start of the second half and fans were to change moods again, as news filtered through of Cisse’s equaliser against City, sending the away support at the Stadium of Light into a sense of elation. As this was going on United went in search of a second, but early chances from Jones and Carrick proved fruitless. There was more drama at the Etihad as Joey Barton was sent off for a foolish elbow on Tevez.

Queens Park Rangers now had to survive the rest of the game with 10 men, tensions ramped up to 11. United kept about their business, with plenty of play going through Valencia, although Sunderland began to try for a response. 66 minutes in and news reaches the United fans of an unexpected 1-2 lead for QPR. Could Mark Hughes’ men defy all expectations? Tensions remained tight as the longest 25 minutes of football wound down. With minutes remaining and City surging forward at home, many may have believed the unthinkable had happened.

Stoppage time, and Dzeko fires home and equalises with minutes to spare, as the final whistle came at Sunderland. Anticipation. Could it be?

It was not. At the death, Aguero pulled his side ahead, handing City the win, and crowning them the 2012 Premier League Champions. For United, disappointment and despair as their title prospects seemed to fade and reignite over the course of 90 dramatic minutes. If such events had occurred in another sport, one might have wondered if it were scripted, yet we all know that this is what football matches are capable of and in particular the Premier League and while it left United fans wondering what might have been, for the neutral it could have only been pure entertainment, as the final day of the season threw up other surprising results to end the year with a bang.

With that, here are five things that may be taken from the seasons curtain closure.

1) A dignified congratulations to the adversary

For all the analysis, statements and remarks made about financial power and where the title was won and lost, a congratulations is still in order for the new Champions, Manchester City. The fact remains, that both sides went toe to toe over the course of the season, and ultimately, City came out better off by the narrow margin and extra point that is goal difference. With 89 points collected by both sides, it remained a tight race until the end, with many twists and turns unravelling as the business end approached. Although United are guilty of certain results going against them when they developed the 8 point lead, credit is due when City capitalised as their rivals faltered. Other results earlier in the season had their influence, but over the course of 38 games, one side came out on top and for this the plaudits should be as such.

2) Empathy with Bayern Munich

Soon after the dust had settled and the shock taken in, the one thing that may have crossed the minds of many of the United faithful is “so… this is what it feels like to be Bayern Munich in 1999”. To have had glory in sight and to vanish within a matter of seconds must have been agonising as the final moments passed and the wait for the finish felt like years. So very suddenly, it was all over and the fortunes had been reversed. Drama that Hollywood could not hope to dream up and merely one of the many reasons we take to the beautiful game so often. Yes, for players, fans and staff alike it is a moment of soreness, but be in no doubt that all will be ready when the new season kicks off.

3) United were always relying on other results

In the aftermath of what had occurred, some fans may have wished that QPR simply rolled over and lost 6-0 so as to avoid such a change in emotion ranging from euphoric to despondent over the course of the afternoon. In truth, the problem always lay in the fact that United were relying on results elsewhere to secure the title as well as their own game. A few weeks earlier, certain results saw the lead they worked so hard to get, whittled away within a short space of time. The failure to close out the game in the 4-4 draw with Everton will likely stick with the players for a long time, but the incredibly flat performance against a Wigan side battling for survival suggested signs of complacency, as well as the way they set up as they squared off against City in that all important 30th April clash.

4) Goal difference decisive

As one goes over the games gone by in a season, one tries to find various points in the campaign that may have proved influential as the conclusion approached. Both sides got off to high scoring starts as an introduction of things to come. But certain games where heavy defeats and low scoring affairs meant United fell behind on that bonus point that is goal difference. The 6-1 defeat at home to City now holds greater importance than it once did and although United did well to claw back at that deficit in the latter stages, particularly when City found themselves dropping points, the gap quickly opened up again and was the decisive factor come 13th May.

5) 89 Points and a trophy-less season

Of course, the disappointment at ending the season empty-handed is a difficult pill to swallow in light of more successful years recently. And although United have been lacklustre, to put it mildly, in European competition, and is an area in which there will need to be marked improvement next season, there is still some credit that ought to be placed at the side. For a team generally believed to be in transition and far from the finished article, the signs are positive. For all the grumbles of much of the side not being up to the standard expected, one cannot help but acknowledge the fact that the side simply could not have been that bad to have mounted a title challenge the way they did. Is there room for improvement? Of course, there always is and in light of new challenges, it is hard to see Sir Alex Ferguson ignoring areas for rejuvenation within the squad, particularly the midfield area that found itself benefitting so greatly on the return of Paul Scholes. It is doubtful, that vast sums of money will be thrown at the feet of certain players to help do this, but what may happen this summer and what can be taken from the season as a whole is another article for another day. For now, the United faithful move on and look onward to the next campaign.

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