Early Doors

City… bloody hell

Early Doors

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Sergio Aguero scores goal, gets booked

As the sheer mind-bending ridiculousness of this season in the Premier League finally starts to settle in the minds of fans everywhere, few phrases sum it up better than: "Football... bloody hell."

It was a line famously coined by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson after his team's dramatic stoppage-time win over Bayern Munich in 1999, but on Sunday it was the turn of noisy neighbours Manchester City to leave the millions watching mouthing those words in astonishment.

For Bayern defender Sammy Kuffour's anguished beating of the Nou Camp turf 13 years ago, see the open-mouthed look of disbelief on Phil Jones's face when news broke that City's 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers rendered his own team's 1-0 win at Sunderland redundant.

Arsenal had it on 1989 when the league title was "up for grabs" at Anfield. United had it a decade later on THAT night in Barcelona. Liverpool had it with their 'Miracle of Istanbul' seven years ago. Yesterday, after 380 games and a record 1,066 goals of the Premier League's 20th season, City got their own moment of glorious and historic high drama that took them top of the pile.

None of those who saw City's title-winning two-goal salvo in five minutes of Joey Barton-incurred stoppage time will ever forget it. It may have been the first time the Premier League title was decided on goal difference, but Sergio Aguero's instinctively brilliant winner ensured that the best team over the past nine months won the trophy.

Even Mike Dean — the archetypal jobsworth referee — revelled in City's moment of glory. As Aguero sprinted away in unbridled joy after scoring his injury-time winner, twirling his sky blue shirt above his head, the official from Merseyside booked the Argentine striker for removing his jersey. The man would have made an exceptional traffic warden.

It was another reminder of sport's enduring capacity to shock, surprise and thrill, to make heroes and break hearts.

Team sports are naturally more conducive to upsetting the odds, and the random nature of football makes it the game which delivers the unexpected more often than any other - as that United fan seen clutching a radio at full-time at the Stadium of Light will tell you.

Phil Brown invited a lot of fun to be had at his expense last week when he dubbed the final round of fixtures "Seismic Sunday", but the suspiciously swarthy Sandancer called it right. Just as whenever there is a tectonic shift in the Earth's crust it does not happen quietly, so City's capture of their first league title in 44 years shook the English game to its very core.

Brown was by no means the only one to succumb to delirious hyperbole, though. Even Gary Neville, who has earned so much grudging respect after a fine first season as a pundit, couldn't resist declaring "the Premier League is the best league in the world by a million miles". Whatever the merits of such a claim, you will be hard-pressed to find a climax to a campaign as inspiring anywhere outside the realms of fiction.

In spite of the photo finish which led to City's triumph, there is little argument that they deserve it. They scored the most goals (93), conceded the fewest (29), registered the most clean sheets (17) and had the best home record all season (18 wins, one draw, equalling the Premier League record of 55 points).

In Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero they possess a truly top-drawer spine running through the side of which their rivals can only dream of having. Those four players alone may have cost oil-rich City £67.5 million (with Hart accounting for £1.5m of that), but they are not the first club to buy the title and will almost certainly not be the last.

Less than a decade after Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea, few would question the Blues' status as an elite outfit today even if it was gained by the Russian's lavish expenditure. By converting Sheikh Mansour's petrodollars into an FA Cup triumph last season and a championship this term, City are now a fully established force.

Just like the west London club, City's huge outlay has been made in order to rapidly bring them to the level of the other top clubs, who have spent big themselves over a longer period of time. Yesterday, Roberto Mancini's starting XI cost a combined £161m - £8m less than United's. Now, with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules in full effect, it will largely be this group of City players that sets about turning their year of dominance into an era.

Unlike Chelsea, however, City have delivered more excitement than efficiency as they have spent their way to the top. The 5-1 victory at White Hart Lane and their 6-1 win at Old Trafford gave them the look of runaway champions before Christmas, but some negative results on the pitch and insubordination from a pair of sulky strikers off it kept things interesting for the neutral right up until the very last moments.

It was the perfect compromise for City fans across the generations. For the eldest among them, it was a return to the late 1960s when they had a genuine claim for being the best club in the land. For those who have endured a lifetime of ineptitude and failure who struggle to be make peace with the new, free-spending behemoth their club has become, there was more than enough flirtation with disaster to satisfy even the most masochistic supporter. As for the youngest, a new generation of City fans are now bred on something which eluded the club for so long: success.

The victory was very much a City one. For all those who still hold the 1999 Division Two play-off final win so dear, this triumph had just as much nail-biting anguish to make it all the more sweet.

City supporters must cling on to memories of such a hard-fought victory. They may not be so dramatic in the future.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The head was never gone at any stage, once I'd been sent off, one of our players suggested I should try to take 1 of theirs with me..." — QPR's Joey Barton takes to Twitter to defend his abhorrent actions after getting sent off against City, which saw him knee Aguero in the back of the leg and try to headbutt Kompany. Barton could now be facing a cumulative nine-match ban for his actions. But, as he said, at least he never lost "the head".

FOREIGN VIEW: It wasn't just England where there were thrills to be had and history to be made.

In Spain, Real Madrid signed off on their title-winning campaign with a 4-1 win over Mallorca that saw them post a record 100 points for a season and a whopping 121 goals scored, another record. At the bottom of the table Villarreal — Spain's fourth-best team last season and Champions League semi-finalists in 2006 — were relegated.

In Italy, champions Juventus completed the league season unbeaten with a 3-1 win over Atalanta that saw Alessandro Del Piero score on what will likely be his final Serie A appearance for the Old Lady. A win in next Sunday's Coppa Italia final will confirm them as going the whole season without defeat.

In Germany, Bayern Munich warmed up for Saturday's Champions League final by getting hammered 5-2 by Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal final, the latter clinched the German double in the process.

COMING UP: You can watch highlights of all the games on a thrilling final day in the Premier League, or just take in our chronological timeline of how the drama unfolded.

Later on we'll be getting Paul Parker's final word on an extraordinary season, as well as a photo gallery of some of the best moments over the past year.

The regular season may be over, but fear ye not! You can still get a dose of live football action this evening as Sheffield United host Stevenage in the second leg of their League One play-off semi-final at Bramall Lane this evening.

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