United win, but suffer title heart break; Sunderland 0 Manchester United 1
United went into the final day of the season knowing that even a result against Sunderland was unlikely to see them retain their premier league title, with leaders Manchester City needing only to beat QPR at home to win their first in over 40 years. In some ways, this made United’s job simple, beat Sunderland and hope that things elsewhere fell into place to secure a remarkable 20th league title. Having won the title on the final day 3 previous times, Fergie went for experience in the form of a Carrick Scholes and Giggs trio in midfield, as United opted for their somewhat unflavoured 4-5-1 formation against a Sunderland side newly transformed by Martin O Neil. What transpired was arguably the most dramatic, and heart-breaking final day in premier league history.
United began the game looking like a team with a huge point to prove after their recent lapse of form in the league, with Antonio Valencia giving ex red John O Shea an absolutely torrid time down the right hand flank. Likewise, Ashley Young was proving a real menace down the left, as United looked poised to break the deadlock early on. A Wayne Rooney free kick from the edge of the box looked destined to hit the back of the net, only for it to ricochet off the bar, as the tension and frustration was slowly building. But it was Phil Jones, much maligned this season, who provided the telling contribution to give United the lead, with a superb first time cross which was met at the back post by Wayne Rooney, who stooped low to nod United temporarily to the top of the table. Rooney should have doubled United’s lead, as Ashley Young’s scuffed shot fell to him in the 6 yard area, but the England striker failed to sort his feet quickly enough, and steered the ball horribly wide.
Sunderland nearly responded in style, with another ex red, Fraiser Campbell missing the hosts best chance of the match, sending his volley from 10 yards out comfortably wide after a delightful ball from Stefan Sessegnon. It was United though who went in the happier of the 2 sides, but were now reliant upon a QPR fight back at the Etihad, as news filtered through that City were leading at half time. Knowing that their work was done if they could keep a clean sheet, United looked to use their midfield to control the game and keep Sunderland at bay, whilst praying for a QPR miracle to hand them the title. Hopes that the home side were lacking the intent to break United down however were misguided, as Sunderland built up a period of concerted pressure, with the impressive James McClean in particular making himself a nuisance to the United back four. News that QPR had equalised, and then taken the lead galvanised United into a second wind, and the reds were hugely unfortunate to not make it 2-0, as Paul Scholes’ powerful strike came back off the post, and Ryan Giggs’ follow up was superbly tipped over by Mignolet. A Rooney free kick in the dying minutes struck the post, the 3rd such occasion for United, as the reds looked to close out the game and keep an ear out for news elsewhere. As the full time whistle went at the Stadium of Light, United were champions unless City could find 2 goals in stoppage time. An Edin Dzeko header and Sergio Aguero shot in the closing stages sunk United’s hopes, and handed City the premier league title to the despair of the waiting United players.
An important summer now lies ahead for United, as they have gone trophy less for the first time in nearly 8 years, and with a squad needing investment in order to keep up with City. United though will take heart from the fact that the margin was goal difference only, and that the gap between the two sides is not as great as some have suggested. The images of the City players celebrating with the premier league trophy will resonate in the heads of the United squad, who will surely come back next season more determined than ever to reclaim the title. Thanks to everyone for reading my match reports this season!
DDG – 6 Untroubled most of the game, a few smart saves in second half.
Jones – 7 Best game for a while, delightful cross for the goal.
Ferdinand – 7 Marshalled the defence superbly.
Evans – 7 Solid and assured on the ball.
Evra – 7 One of his best performances of the season.
Valencia – 8 MOTM Showed why his exclusion from the derby was all the more baffling.
Scholes – 7 Ran the game with ease.
Carrick – 7 Shielded the back four well and passed faultlessly.
Giggs – 7 Picked the ball up in dangerous areas and support Rooney well.
Young – 7 Attacked Bardsley well and gave him torrid time.
Rooney – 7 Great finish for opening goal, should have scored more perhaps.
Nani – 6