An afternoon of taut, gut-wrenching tension across the country saw fate’s pendulum swing one way then the next, before condemning the most exciting and the most banal teams in the league to relegation alongside West Ham United. Manchester United picked up their 19th top flight title in front of a rapturous Old Trafford, and said goodbye to one of finest goalkeepers of his generation; Edwin Van Der Sar.
responded to the disaster of finishing trophyless runners-up by almost instantly sacking the man who had delivered the first double in their history in his debut season. Chelsea
In an incredible final day where 2 of 5 teams could go down, the positions changed 14 times, before the final three relegated teams were the team who won least games; West Ham, the team that scored the least;
Birmingham, and the team who conceded most; Blackpool.
Old Trafford saw the best early action, and Keith Southern was lamenting his early jitters, when he passed a fantastic low cross hopelessly wide with the goal at his mercy with less than a minute on the clock. A devious Charlie Adam cross saw Gary Taylor-Fletcher a fraction away from converting, while Dimitar Berbatov; seeking to pull away as the Premier League top scorer, executed a couple of superb touches to allow him a shot on goal, but he found Gilks equal to the task of keeping it out.
White Hart Lane, nervy had Ben Foster to thank for keeping out a low Sandro effort down at his near post with his boot. Birmingham
At the Britannia, Wigan had strapped their tin hats on to repel the waves of corners and long throws from Stoke, while they had to survive a heart-stopping moment when a Kenwyne Jones header was touched in on the line by Jonathan Walters, who was clearly offside in practically standing on Al-Habsi’s toes. It then got even hairier for the Latics, when a Rory Delap throw led to Jones again finding room to strike, but this time it was Emerson Boyce in the right place to clear of the goal line.
Over at Molineux with the match between the two 40-point teams, the cat was put amongst the pigeons. Some sterling work from Junior Hoilett saw him lay back for Salgado to drive a shot in flicked home by Jason Roberts, and Wolves were sweating.
The frantic action continued at Old Trafford, where some great work from Berbatov saw him wriggle through and force a great save from Gilks, while Park was upended, with
Blackpool lucky to escape reprimand.
At the Britannia, Ali Al-Habsi was warming his gloves up, with a great save from Jones, before beating out a Pennant drive that was hammered clear in turn by Alcaraz.
The Molineux faithful were aghast at events, as a Robinson hoof saw three Wolves players all jumping to clear, with Craddock only succeeding in teeing up Brett Emerton for a sumptuous volley from the edge of the box that practically tore the net out of the ground on its way in.
Ben Foster flapped a Younes Kaboul cross away with the greatest of difficulty as
looked shaky. Birmingham
Mick McCarthy wore the look of a man about to put a rocket up every one of his players’ backsides when the majestic Junior Hoilett left three Wolves defenders on the floor before crashing a low shot into the net to put Blackburn 3-0 up on the stroke of half-time.
At half-time then, Wolves were joining Wigan Athletic down among the dead men, and one could only imagine the ferocity of McCarthy’s intermission pep talk.
The second periods began, and another deadly Charlie Adam free-kick was batted over the crossbar by a startlingly nonchalant Van Der Sar.
The Tottenham-Birmingham game ground into life, when a courageous run from Danny Rose saw the ball cannon off the retreating Craig Gardner for substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko to curl a delicious effort wide of a surprised Foster, who clutched his head in his hands at the gravity of his error.
At Old Trafford the picture was turned in its head once more, when an inviting low cross from David Vaughan was deftly turned in off the post under pressure by a suspiciously offside-looking Taylor-Fletcher, to give
Blackpool the lead and a sight of salvation.
Wigan were finally beginning to stir at the Britannia, and a counter-attack dictated by Ben Watson saw Charles N’Zogbia be perhaps a little too honest, when he shrugged off a wrestling match with Jermaine Pennant to win a corner, when going down would surely have yielded a spot-kick.
Wigan finally got a shot on target, when substitute Conor Sammon turned swiftly and cracked in a weak effort with his left foot, dealt with comfortably.
Blackpool’s good work was undone as they continued to leave wide open spaces at the back, seized upon by Park, who crossed for
Anderson to sweep home from close-range, leaving Blackpool on the brink once more. A Patrice Evra cross saw Berbatov nip in and head back across goal, only for Gilks to flick an arm up to deny the Bulgarian and keep Blackpool in touch.
Wolves finally rediscovered their bottle and began to mount a comeback, with a cunning free-kick move that saw a Hunt dummy to lay off for O’Hara peeling off his man to find the bottom corner. Stephen Fletcher then saw his fantastic header bring the best out of Paul Robinson to keep the score at 3-1.
At Old Trafford United were taking over. A classic Smalling cross saw Nani rise but somehow put his header back towards the crosser. The pressure told when another superb Smalling delivery saw Ian Evatt swipe at it with his wrong foot, for an agonising own goal. Evatt then bounded forward to make amends, but brought a great reaction from an alert Van Der Sar flying out to block.
So Blackpool were goners, but the team that were joining them was
Birmingham, with Wigan precariously safe on goals scored. Soon this scenario became redundant, when the Latics found the strength to seize their own destiny in the 78th minute. Maynor Figueroa glided past two men on his way to dinking in a perfect centre attacked with purpose by Hugo Rodallega, who beat his man to head past a flying Begovic for a glorious goal.
The Latics had lifted themselves well clear with that goal, dropping Wolves back into the relegation zone when Craig Gardner took the ball on his thigh on the edge of the box and crashed home with his left foot to equalise for Birmingham at White Hart Lane.
The news filtered through at an increasingly desperate Molineux, and Wolves had to throw everything at getting back into the game with
Meanwhile at Old Trafford, the game was finally dead and buried as a contest with the Tangerines committed forward. Anderson slid a perfect pass through the chasm between Blackpool’s centre of defence which substitute Michael Owen ran through, before finishing with aplomb one-on-one to seal a near-perfect home record for the champions.
White Hart Lane, a Lennon cross was volleyed wastefully wide by Sandro as clung on by the narrowest of safety margins. Birmingham
Such was the fragility of
’s situation, one goal from Wolves would have made all the difference, and they duly got it, when a long clout from Hennessey was bravely flicked on for Stephen Hunt in the box. The Irishman took one touch to control before bending an outrageous shot beyond Robinson for a goal that brought the house down at Molineux. Despite still losing, this goal would keep Wolves up on goals scored. Birmingham
The news filtered through at
White Hart Lane, where the usual stoical ten-man defence was forced to go forward, as only a goal would save them. Ben Foster even joined at a corner, but failed to make an impact, and Birmingham’s foolhardy attacking proved their downfall, as Roman Pavlyuchenko strolled forward unchallenged before hammering in a shot that nicked off a defender on its way in off the crossbar.
Cue resignation at
White Hart Lane, agony at Old Trafford, jubilation at Molineux and ecstasy at the Britannia. Despite the incredibly tight nature of the goal differences, survival came down to points. Wolves escaped the dreaded drop by reaching the hallowed 40-point mark, while Blackpool and were left stranded on 39. We bid a fond farewell to the cavalier Tangerines, and a good riddance to the mind-grinding tedium of Birmingham Birmingham, who at least have the consolation of a League Cup to soothe their crushing disappointment, while flying the flag in Europe as a Championship club.
Mancitti celebrated their coronation as the new force in town with a comfortable victory at the Reebok, to leave them not only third, but only below Chelsea on goal difference, and with an FA Cup to boot. Unfortunately for Carlos Tevez, the boot he was after will have to be shared with city rival Dimitar Berbatov. With neither of them able to score on the final day, they both finished the season on 20 goals.
Bolton’s excellent season finished dismally in 14th; fatally undermined after Stoke wiped the floor with them in the FA Cup. City dominated the early stages, but Johan Elmander, playing his final match for the club, went close after sterling work from Daniel Sturridge, while Gareth Barry earned himself an entry into the ‘howler of the season’ archives, when he headed a deadly cross from Dedryck Boyata against the crossbar from five yards with an open net in front of him. City’s dominance in the first half paid off in ludicrous circumstances, when a corner was leapt at but missed by Vincent Kompany, and struck a completely oblivious Joleon Lescott on the forehead; sending it spiralling into the net. City’s second just after the hour mark came after Tevez brilliantly slipped in Gareth Barry, who crossed for Dzeko lurking in the middle. Gary Cahill intercepted initially, but the ball bounced up invitingly for Dzeko to spin and net for 2-0. Carlos Tevez ran himself into the ground attempting to force the goal that would win him the Golden Boot, but it wasn’t to be. Bolton’s frustration was perhaps encapsulated late on, when the normally placid Daniel Sturridge was red-carded for a shin-high studs challenge on Edin Dzeko. Whether it was his last action for the club remains to be seen.
Chelsea ended their season with a pitiful performance that left them clinging to second place by only goal difference, as Everton saw them off at Goodison Park to finish the season comfortably in seventh position. An early Jagielka header bounced off the crossbar, and Osman went down under a dubious challenge from Alex, though replays showed it was a good tackle. Jermaine Beckford began an interesting afternoon’s work when a brilliant run saw him bearing down on goal, though as Cech narrowed his angles he managed to put an appalling finish so wide it drifted out for a throw-in. In a weak riposte, Nicolas Anelka forced a decent save from Howard, but it looked all
’s game when Seamus Coleman threw himself into two reckless challenges and got sent off. John Terry almost found the breakthrough when he thundered a shot against the foot of the post with his weaker right foot. Beckford wriggled through for a second time but was denied by Cech. Chelsea thought they had the game in the bag when Ivanovic converted after Lampard was beaten out, but Terry standing offside when the shot came in thwarted their celebrations. They were left lamenting their missed chances when Jermaine Beckford’s steady improvement bore fruit, as he picked up the ball in his own half and motored forward, squeezing through three Chelsea players with a bit of luck and cantering through one-on-one, before executing a magnificent chip over the advancing Cech, whose hand was not enough to prevent the ball bouncing softly in with a clip of the post. Goodison roared, and the sword of Damocles fell on Ancelotti, who was ruthlessly dismissed following the post-match trivialities. Chelsea
Fulham entered their final league game at home to Arsenal as the only team yet to receive a red card, and, inevitably, this record was soiled before full-time. Another record meanwhile was continued, when Robin Van Persie extended his scoring run in away games to nine matches. Arsenal imposed themselves early on, and a deep Kieran Gibbs cross was returned by Baccary Sagna for Gibbs to send in a header well saved by Mark Schwarzer. Fulham took the lead though, when Clint Dempsey’s excellent slide-rule pass sent Bobby Zamora away down the left flank, and his pull-back was converted by the arriving Steve Sidwell through Szsceszny, but just three minutes later Marouane Chamakh and Abou Diaby played a one-two, before finding Van Persie, who dispatched expertly past the advancing Schwarzer. Before half-time came an incredible moment, as Danny Murphy bundled past Szseszny and prepared to nudge it over the line from a yard out, only to be left flat on his face when Thomas Vermaelen defied physics as he lunged in from nowhere to tackle and send the ball spinning away from danger for surely the clearance of the season. In the second half, Samir Nasri sent in a belting free-kick that required a fabulous save from Mark Schwarzer, but Fulham retook the lead when Jonathan Greening made some inroads down the left flank, and lifted a magnificent cross on his weaker foot which was headed home by
. It looked as if the Cottagers would hold on for a famous result, until Zoltan Gera lunged in two-footed on Thomas Vermaelen; yielding the first red card in the last game for Fulham, and possibly jeopardising Fulham’s Fair Play ranking. The inevitable onslaught from the Gunners led to a last-minute equaliser, as Theo Walcott burst into the box and drove in off the post, with Schwarzer’s hand not quite turning it away. Zamora
A barnstorming game at St James’ Park saw an unfeasible comeback from West Brom; coming from 3-0 down to send their travelling fans home happy. The madness began early on, with Stephen Taylor clearing brilliantly off the line as Marc-Antoine Fortune rounded Krul. Taylor’s afternoon then got doubly good, as he took full advantage of cock-up after cock-up inside the Baggies’ box to turn his man and bundle in the opening goal from a couple of yards. Shola Ameobi soon rounded Carson, only for his effort to be squeezed off the line by a combination of three defenders, but it was 2-0 after Lovenkrands bounded through to get in a lob which Carson made a ham-fisted attempt at tipping over and then catching from behind his goal line. Marc-Antoine Fortune was once again foiled by the goal line heroics of Stephen Taylor before Jonas Olsson comically made it 3-0 just after the break; lunging to stab a Luis Enrique cross into his own net with his wrong foot. The Toon fans were lording it, but were to be left with egg on their faces. It wasn’t until after the hour mark that
West Brom finally troubled the scorekeepers, when Somen Tchoyi beat a static offside trap to finish Reid’s through-ball one-on-one. Nobody expected it to be more than a consolation, but less than ten minutes later, the Cameroonian midfielder controlled a deep cross, dummied to fool Coloccini as he cut inside, and unleashed a thunderous finish to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Newcastle were on their summer break by now, bar a couple of players standing firm, and the West Brom onslaught was on. Finally, in the last minute the away fans were delighted, when Olsson had Newcastle retreating, before sending in a great cross to the unguarded back post, where Somen Tchoyi arrived and readjusted superbly to send a diving header into the net for the most unlikely of hat-tricks, leaving Uncle Roy toasting a fantastic conclusion to a season that started so dismally for him.
The same of course also happened for
Roy’s former club Liverpool, who have enjoyed a sterling renaissance under the stewardship of Kenny Dalglish. From the fringes of the relegation zone, they have risen to sixth place, surpassing all expectations. Dalglish has signed shrewdly, and even Hodgson’s signing Raul Meireles is beginning to look the real deal. Unfortunately for Liverpool fans they could not steal late into the Europa League place, and were condemned to defeat at Villa Park by a blistering finish from Stewart Downing, who chested an awkward cross down before crashing it in off the crossbar. Liverpool were seething later though, as some great work from Luis Suarez saw him lay the ball across for Meireles with an open net beckoning, until Friedel and Dunne threw themselves across to block it. The problem was, both also reached out with both hands, yet incredibly replays proved inconclusive as the shot was so venomous. Villa almost sealed the game late on when Downing lovingly threaded the ball through for the rampaging Bent who turned it away from Reina but a fraction out of the reach of a stretching Agbonlahor. Bit of a damp squib finish for Liverpool, but their fans will surely be excited for next season, while Villa’s fans, though no doubt wishing their boss a rapid recuperation, were just happy there was no repeat of the Houllier love-in witnessed at Anfield, and they can look forward to a new season with a reliable striker in the excellent Bent.
West Ham were booed off after finishing their relegation season with a dire home defeat to strikerless
Sunderland. The humiliation began in the 17th minute, when an inviting cross from Ahmed Elmohamedy just cleared its target Asamoah Gyan, only for the diminutive Bolo Zenden to rise like a salmon and power a glorious header over Rob Green. The Hammers almost struck back but for the alert reactions of Simon Mignolet, who foiled a turn and close-range shot from Zavon Hines. The first half petered out somewhat, but the second was only six minutes old when Stephane Sessegnon advanced unchecked for some distance, before unleashing a 20-yard shot in off the post to make it 2-0. Minimal West Ham resistance saw Jordan Henderson come close, before the game was sealed by substitute Cristian Riveros controlling a cross, easily fooling Jacobsen and drilling into the roof of the net. The boos resounded around the Boleyn after a shambles of a season, while Sunderland restored some pride when most thought their complete lack of strikers would leave them winless in the final few matches.
So what do we make of the final tablings?
1st Manchester United – Surely Fergie’s greatest accomplishment yet? With a squad most acknowledge is not the finest, he has guided them to their precious nineteenth title, overhauling
Liverpool and taking his side to another Champions’ League final. A poor away record was compensated for by a record of 18 wins and 1 draw at home.
2nd Chelsea – Most people’s favourites to retain their title, and even stronger following their incredible start, it seemed they may run away with the league, yet a series of key injuries and bizarre interventions by owner Roman Abramovich seemed to derail their charge, as they endured an inordinately lengthy run of appalling form. Lost an amazing nine games, and once again knocked out of the holy grail, which spelled the end for a manager who brought home the Double just a year ago.
– A triumphant season by anyone’s standards for the nouveau riches kids on the block; not just automatic Champions’ League qualification, but only kept off second spot on goal difference, with their first trophy in 35 years to boot. Biggest challenge may be holding on to Tevez and meeting rising expectations now they have raised the bar for themselves, but they have all the money in the world to play with. Manchester City
4th Arsenal – A catastrophic season for the Gunners was encapsulated in the final minutes of the League Cup final, when a horrible gaffe lost them a trophy which may have spurred them on to bigger things. Instead, they lost all sense of impetus and confidence, and finished fourth in a two-horse race. Wenger bought once again on the cheap, and it showed: Squillaci and Koscielny were like Laurel and Hardy at the back, while Bendtner, Rosicky, Arshavin and Walcott should all take a good look at their own contributions to this epic failure.
5th Tottenham – Another team whose cup eliminations weighed heavily on them. After the exhilarating displays in their debut Champions’ League season, they went well off the boil and just about clung on to a Europa League place. Harry Redknapp has moved mountains, but surely needs to give Defoe and Pavlyuchenko more game time and Peter Crouch less if he wants a more clinical edge to turn those frequent draws into wins.
Liverpool – After their torpid demise under Roy Hodgson, it was clear that a change in direction was needed, and they found the right man clearly. Despite his long absence from management rigours, King Kenny knows his club inside out, he signed shrewdly and seemed to send the team out with a smile; expressing themselves far more and rising to an excellent sixth. A season without Europe may also work to their advantage.
7th Everton – Another season of two halves for the Toffees, who can’t help but be diabolical until Christmas, before going on a run of form that would see them over a season challenging for the title. Moyes has once again struck gold with Jermaine Beckford, a striker who misses many sitters but also scores vital goals, while Osman, Arteta, Cahill and Baines all contribute goals from other areas. Think what he could do with some serious investment.
8th Fulham – Another fabulous season for the Cottagers under a new manager. Mark Hughes proved he has what it takes by shrugging off early season relegation fears caused by crucial injuries to take his team into the higher reaches of the table based on a foundation of typically imperious home form, and, more impressively, fair play. Some shrewd signings and nous will see him potentially take them on a step further next term.
9th Aston Villa – A great finish after a miserable season following the departure of the irrepressible Martin O’Neill. O’Neill seemed to leave when his plea for finance to take the next step was ignored, and he must have raised a wry smile when Randy Lerner forked out £24million on Darren Bent. No money for improvement but plenty to avoid the drop it would seem. With Bent, Villa finally possess a clinical edge, though cynics would argue that Houllier is not the right man to take them forward; healthy or not.
Sunderland – A remarkable accomplishment for Steve Bruce to take the Mackems into the top 10, despite a cruel injury list and a horrendous mid-season run of form that nearly took them down. Darren Bent’s departure out of the blue affected them greatly, and it doesn’t help that two of their best players; Wellbeck and Zenden, are leaving in the summer. Still, you sense Brucey may have a bonus or two in the offing for the summer.
11th West Bromwich Albion – After a dire half-season reign at Liverpool, Roy Hodgson completed a tremendous half-season conclusion at
West Brom. The Baggies’ board were disloyal in the extreme in sacking Roberto Di Matteo, who had done great work, but Hodgson proved the perfect replacement, losing only two of his thirteen league games in charge to leave them comfortably safe early. Peter Odemwingie was one of the finds of the season, and the Baggies’ tidy footballing style wins them many neutral fans.
12th Newcastle – Another team hideously disloyal in sacking a manager, Mike Ashley should at least go into the history books as beginning the trend of sacking a manager for actually excelling in his post. Ashley’s cronies duly appointed a powerless stooge in Alan Pardew, who would have swam the
Tyne with Ashley tied to his back for another Premier League job. Pardew achieved pretty much the same as his predecessor. have not got great players, but they are muscular and unpredictable, while possessing goal-scoring midfielders in Barton and Nolan. Chekh Tiote is an outstanding find. Newcastle
– Tony Pulis showed us his childish side by refusing to shake hands a couple of times, and his adult side when he bravely attended the end of a game he inspired his side to win following the death of his mother. He abandoned all pretence of flair by jettisoning Gudjohnsen and Tunçay, and guided the club to the FA Cup final and comfortable safety again, with a style that is heavy on predictability, but hugely difficult to deal with. Should get the freedom of Stoke after his achievements with them this season. Stoke City
14th Bolton Wanderers – A defining season in the making was shattered in the aftermath of an FA Cup semi-final slaughter to Stoke. Like Arsenal,
Bolton fell far from where they perhaps deserved to be on the back of a horrible cup elimination, and will reflect much on it in the summer ahead. Coyle has proved adept once again at moulding a team confident of playing expansive and imaginative football, though a worry will be losing both Elmander and Sturridge; stalwarts of the successes of the season.
15th Blackburn Rovers – A ridiculous sacking of Fat Sam and a raft of failed marquee signings led to an inevitable plummet down the table for Rovers. Steve Kean, to his credit, masterminded enough results to keep their heads above water, but many questions are floating over
. Can they really evolve their route one style?; and is Kean really a Premier League manager?; would be among the most obvious. Christopher Samba, Phil Jones and Junior Hoilett were outstanding though, and they may struggle to hold onto these. Ewood Park
16th Wigan Athletic – A dignified manager and a supportive chairman make
Wigan a very well-run club, but they survived on more than goodwill. When the chips were really down, the Latics pulled through; winning their final three games to save themselves. They play a swift and attractive passing game, but Wigan’s huge problem is lack of a clinical striker. Ali Al-Habsi was the signing of the season, while the maverick brilliance of Charles N’Zogbia and sporadic excellence of Hugo Rodallega kept them up. Martinez’s striking recruits; Scotland; Di Santo; Boselli; leave much to be desired, and this is a gap he sorely needs to plug if Wigan are to stay up again.
17th Wolverhampton Wanderers – Mick McCarthy saw off many brickbats with wit during a tumultuous season at Molineux, and eventually accomplished his brief on the last day, despite a defeat. Wolves, like
Wigan, can pull results out of the fire when you think they’re finished, and Mick has made some shrewd signings; Hunt and Fletcher particularly. Wolves particularly suffered during Colin Doyle’s lengthy absence, and they will hope to add dimensions to his indefatigable threat next season.
– The League Cup winners paid the ultimate price for their negative tactics, but can be somewhat consoled with the consolation of a trophy in the cabinet. A team only based on defence lost one half of their central defensive partnership and fell apart. As the lowest scoring team, they clearly earned their place in the bottom three, and many will be glad not to be bored to tears by them next season. Birmingham
19th Blackpool – On the contrary, many will be gutted that the carefree bravado of
Blackpool will be missing from the top flight next season. They have been nothing short of a revelation, and Ian Holloway is a national treasure. They go down as the highest-scoring relegated team in Premiership history, but the telling fact is that they conceded more goals than any other team, thus they too, sadly, earned their place in the bottom three.
20th West Ham United – Shambolic, disgraceful and a laughing stock. And that’s just their owners! Avram Grant was clearly the wrong man, though the rot had set in since Dean Ashton’s career-ending injury. The Hammers had far too many players; Robert Green; Matthew Upson;
; who believed their own hype and didn’t back it up with performances. Having won the fewest games, they too thoroughly deserved their place at the bottom of the pile. Wayne Bridge