Premier League - Defiant United thrash Stoke

Eurosport - Sun, 09 May 17:54:00 2010

Manchester United surrendered the Premier League title with a defiant and comprehensive 4-0 win against Stoke at Old Trafford.

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Goals from Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung - plus a Danny Higginbotham own-goal - gave United a hollow victory in light of Chelsea's championship-winning effort against Wigan.

Eleven titles in 17 years have seen a generation of United fans grow accustomed to final-day glory, but this time their fate was out of their hands.

Alex Ferguson's men lost the title not because of the final day, but primarily because of defeats at home and away against the new champions, who finish a point clear having broken United's record of goals in a Premier League season, which stood at 98.

Still, United gave every indication that, while they could not make it four in a row, they will present a formidable opponent for Carlo Ancelotti's men next season.

A lively start saw Nani make dangerous inroads while Dimitar Berbatov had two shots blocked, but then came the news that Nicolas Anelka had given Chelsea a seventh-minute lead at Stamford Bridge.

Nani continued to provide the spark, switching flanks and giving both full-backs Andy Wilkinson and Higginbotham uncomfortable moments. On 12 minutes he crossed perfectly on to the head of Berbatov, who managed to put the ball over from a couple of yards, neatly encapsulating a deeply frustrating season for the Bulgarian.

Berbatov headed over again nine minutes later - Nani the provider once more - but this time it was a difficult chance and the ball grazed the crossbar on its way into the crowd.

United broke through just after the half-hour mark when a Nemanja Vidic header ricocheted to Fletcher's feet a couple of yards out and the Scotsman - one of Ferguson's most reliable players this season - scooped the ball in from a couple of yards.

No sooner had Fletcher sent the home fans into raptures than news filtered through that Wigan had been reduced to 10 men and Frank Lampard had effectively finished the title race from the penalty spot.

Old Trafford had been transformed into a Theatre of Irrelevance, but United responded impressively with Berbatov fashioning a chance for Gary Neville, who attempted an audacious chip but presented Asmir Begovic with an easy save.

Giggs made it two on 38 minutes as Berbatov squared a low ball that the Welshman did not strike cleanly, but his side-foot effort somehow squirmed under Begovic's body.

Stoke's best chance of the half came in stoppage time when Ricardo Fuller brought a smart stop from Edwin van der Sar.

With Chelsea accelerating their way to a stonking win, the United fans took on a mood of jubilant defiance, and their singing grew more cheerful when the third goal came nine minutes into the second period.

Fletcher slid an intelligent ball to Wayne Rooney, who shimmied past Robert Huth and played a ball across the front of goal that Higginbotham could only turn into the net via the crossbar.

As United eased off, Stoke tested Van der Sar twice, with a Rory Delap header and a Danny Pugh long shot forcing the Dutchman into fine saves.

Rooney came off late on after feeling a twinge in his groin - England fans will be hoping he recovers fully in the 34 days until his World Cup campaign starts against the USA.

Didier Drogba's hat-trick against Wigan denied Rooney the Golden Boot trophy, but such is Rooney's unselfishness and his centrality to United's play, there can be no denying his position as the Premier League's Player of the Year.

Unfortunately for United, it is also indisputable that Rooney now plays for the Premier League's second-best team.

Alex Chick / Eurosport

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