Sunday, May 13, 2012

Drama as City clinch title

Hosts score twice in stoppage time to deny neighbours the crown


Manchester City clinched the Premier League crown following a 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers which was awash with drama.
Needing to match Manchester United's result at Sunderland, City surrendered a first-half lead to 10-man Rangers before roaring back in added time to deny their neighbours the title in spite of their 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light.
Pablo Zabaleta's 39th minute goal seemed to have put City on the road to victory and a first title in 44 years but the home side struggled to add a second to give them breathing space.
Within three minutes of the break they were punished when Djibril Cisse took advantage of Joleon Lescott's awful mistake to bring Rangers level.
The game took another swing in City's favour when Joey Barton was sent off for retaliating to a tangle with Carlos Tevez. His offence was compounded when he kicked out at Sergio Aguero as the QPR midfielder was dragged from the field.
But with City laying siege to the Rangers goal and ready for the coup-de-gras, the visitors broke away through substitute Armond Traore and his cross was headed in by Jamie Mackie.
City threw everything at the Rangers defence and with the title seemingly slipping away, Edin Dzeko gave them hope before Aguero fired in with just a minute of stoppage time remaining to send the Etihad faifhful into ecstasy.
Bolton's failure to beat Stoke meant QPR survived anyway, which was the very least their defiant defending deserved in a truly astonishing game.
For 38 long minutes the Blues could not find a way through their opponents' blanket defence.
Mark Hughes had set his side up to spend long periods without the ball and challenged City to find a gap.
David Silva came closest, driving one shot wide, having a near-post effort saved by Kenny and another goalbound strike blocked by Barton.
QPR remained defiant though, if not exactly composed.
It needed something a little bit different for City to open their opponents up. Zabaleta provided it.


With a sense of anxiety gripping the stands as news of their temporary status as number two in the Premier League filtered through, Zabaleta scorched in from the right flank.
He kept advancing after laying a pass off to Silva, who in turn fed Yaya Toure.
It meant he was within striking range when Toure flicked the ball through and let fly with a fierce effort towards the far post. TV replays did not do Kenny many favours as the ball slithered through his fingers, but in real-time, the QPR keeper had been exposed and his reaction was not quick enough as he turned and tried to claw the ball out of his goal after it had bounced in off the woodwork.
The stadium erupted. Suddenly, what was happening at the Stadium of Light did not seem quite so important.
Instead it was events at the Britannia Stadium that were of huge importance as, from being in a position of relative comfort in terms of their own top-flight status, QPR were now hanging over the trapdoor, with the famous fat lady beginning to clear her throat.
It meant Hughes, returning to the club that dumped him so unceremoniously in December 2009, knew he could no longer rely on his containment policy, which was both an opportunity for City and a reason to be wary.
And so it proved as Lescott made a disastrous decision to head Shaun Wright-Phillips' hopeful lofted pass back to Joe Hart. Cisse read it and duly smashed a first-time shot into the bottom corner.
Back came all those nerves, although the worry was soon replaced by fury at Barton's antics.
The one-time City midfielder, whose time at the club was scarred by so many problems, will receive an automatic suspension for elbowing Tevez in the face, but surely there will be an additional sanction for his attack on Aguero, which was deliberate, as he was ushered from the field, the incident sparking a mass confrontation which substitute Mario Balotelli wanted to get involved in.
The drama had only just begun though. And when Traore skipped past Zabaleta on a rare foray forward, his far-post cross was perfect for Mackie, who launched himself at the ball with a diving header neither Hart nor Lescott could keep out.
On came Dzeko, then Balotelli in a frantic attempt to grab a lifeline.
Both came close, Dzeko hitting a post, Balotelli drawing a fine save from Kenny as QPR abandoned any pretext of attacking intent.
It all looked to be in vain as the game entered five minutes of stoppage time.
Even the celebrations at Dzeko's leveller, when there were under four minutes left, were muted.
But when Aguero scored his 30th - and by far the most important and dramatic - goal of the season 120 seconds later, the roof came off the Etihad Stadium.
The Premier League has seldom seen a day like it.

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