Manchester City’s Cliffhanger Finale Ends 44-Year Wait for Title

Manchester City kept its long- suffering fans waiting right until the end for the club’s first English soccer championship in 44 years.

City scored twice in stoppage time to beat 10-man Queens Park Rangers 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium yesterday, just as Manchester United appeared set to nose out its cross-town rival and secure a record-extending 20th title.

“We did it the hard way,” City manager Roberto Mancini said in comments on his team’s website. “I am told that is the City way.”

Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero’s late goals gave City the title on goal difference ahead of United, which won 1-0 at Sunderland. City’s comeback sealed a turnaround late in the season after it trailed United by eight points with six games left. It won all its remaining matches, including a 1-0 win against United on April 30.

City was a perennial underachiever in elite English soccer, even dropping into the third-tier division in 1998. Since Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought the team in 2008, he’s spent about $1 billion to lift the club from under the shadow of United.

“The supporters have never lost faith or patience, even in the last five minutes today, and we are so pleased that this season, we have delivered some history for them,” Mancini said.

Pablo Zabaleta gave City a halftime lead before QPR rallied with goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie. In between the visiting team’s goals, Joey Barton was red-carded after a clash with Carlos Tevez. Barton then kicked out at Aguero before he left the field.

Aguero Winner

Dzeko brought City level before Aguero got the winner to give City its third league title, and first since 1968.

Before the late goals, United appeared set for a 20th championship after Wayne Rooney scored at Sunderland. United’s tally of 89 points was the most by any team that failed to win the Premier League in a 38-game season.

“We congratulate Manchester City,” United manager Alex Ferguson told reporters. “Anyone who wins the league deserves to win it because it’s a very, very difficult league to win. We have a rich history, better than anyone, and it will take them a century to get to our level of history.”

QPR avoided relegation even with the defeat. Bolton dropped to the second-tier Championship after being held to a 2-2 draw by Stoke City. Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers already had been demoted.

Arsenal took the third spot in the league, the final position that guarantees entry to Europe’s Champions League next season. Fourth-place Tottenham will enter the competition in the qualifying stages unless Chelsea beats Bayern Munich in the final on May 19.

QPR Rallies

City had to wait until the 39th minute to take the lead when Zabaleta got his first goal in a year. The full-back’s shot went through goalkeeper Paddy Kenny’s hands and into the net.

QPR rallied three minutes after half time with Cisse’s sixth goal in eight matches. The Frenchman intercepted an attempted backpass by Joleon Lescott before firing the ball past Joe Hart. He has either scored or been red-carded in each of his games for the club since joining in January.

QPR went a man down after Barton tussled with Tevez and aimed an elbow at the striker’s face, resulting in a red card.

Instead of City taking advantage, it was QPR that scored next as Mackie beat Hart with a diving header on a rare attack.

City brought on strikers Dzeko and Mario Balotelli as it searched for goals. Dzeko headed in from close range, then Balotelli passed to Aguero to set up the Argentine forward for the title-clinching goal, his 23rd league of the season.

‘Never Again’

“You want to say it’s the best moment of your life but, if I’m honest, please never again this way,” City captain Vincent Kompany said in a televised interview.

United had kept up the pressure by winning. Rooney headed in Phil Jones’s cross after 20 minutes at the Stadium of Light.

Rooney had other chances, missing four minutes later from close range and hitting the outside of a post with a free kick.

Arsenal rallied at West Bromwich Albion to win 3-2 and hold on to third position, one point ahead of Tottenham. Yossi Benayoun, Andre Santos and Laurent Koscielny scored for the Gunners. Robin van Persie was unable to add to his league-high tally of 30 goals.

Spurs beat Fulham 2-0, Newcastle’s challenge for Champions League qualification ended with a 3-1 defeat at Everton, and sixth-place Chelsea won 2-1 against Blackburn.

Bolton Relegation

Bolton was denied a win that would have kept it in the elite division on a 77th-minute penalty kick by Stoke’s Jonathan Walters, who also got the home team’s opener. Mark Davies and Kevin Davies put Bolton ahead before halftime.

“We will regroup and we’ll look to bounce back straight away,” Bolton manager Owen Coyle told reporters.

QPR finished 17th, one point above Bolton.

Last-place Wolves slipped to another defeat, 3-2 at Wigan, Aston Villa ended its season with a 2-0 defeat at Norwich, and Swansea striker Danny Graham scored a late goal in a 1-0 victory against Liverpool.

With 32 goals scored yesterday, a record of 1,066 was set for the most in a Premier League season.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Cone in London at jcone@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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