ManUnited best of them all
MANCHESTER, England – Bitter city rivals Manchester City and Manchester United rained on each other’s parades when, on the same day, City broke a 35-year trophy drought by winning the FA Cup and United were crowned champions of England for a record 19th time.
It didn’t take long for the insatiable Alex Ferguson to contemplate a date with potentially even greater glory soon after winning the 36th trophy of his 25-year Old Trafford reign: the Champions League final against Spanish giants Barcelona at Wembley on May 28.
United’s 1-1 draw at Ewood Park against Blackburn secured the club its 19th English title and set the stage for a shot at continental silverware. Not that Ferguson was resting on his laurels. ”The European Cup is an area in which we should have done better,” Ferguson said. ”We should have won more, I think.”
It was Wayne Rooney’s penalty 17 minutes from time, after Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson brought down striker Javier Hernandez, that enabled United to cancel out Socceroos midfielder Brett Emerton’s well-taken opener.
The draw saw United wrap up the title with a game to spare and while Ferguson is likely to rest some of his stars for next weekend’s final-day clash at home to relegation-threatened Blackpool, he insisted he would field a competitive team.
”We have a responsibility to make sure we are fair to all clubs in the country who are struggling against relegation,” he said. ”Manchester United will try to win next Sunday, there’s no doubt about that.”
United’s final step towards reclaiming the Premier League title reflected many of the team’s games this year: a stumble and fall, but ultimately the necessary blow when it mattered.
For the home side, this Rovers team may live to regret deciding to play keep-ball in the closing stages when they face Wolves next Sunday aiming to avoid relegation.
The historical significance of United’s success is that it takes the club beyond Liverpool and establishes Old Trafford as the home of England’s best-stocked collection of title trophies.
However, United have been crowned champions of Europe just three times, the last in 2008, whereas Liverpool have won the competition on five occasions. They both lag well behind Real Madrid’s record nine titles.
Ferguson has created several successful United sides since arriving from Aberdeen in 1986 but some pundits have questioned whether the current team are one of his best, given they’ve won just five away league games this term.
”It’s not fair to say it’s a bad Man United team or a bad league; it’s a tighter league, a harder league to win,” Ferguson said.
With Manchester City contesting the FA Cup final at Wembley moments after the full-time whistle in this fixture, the fact that the 7000-strong United contingent marked the title success with chants of, ‘Are you watching Merseyside?’, underlined the true significance of knocking Liverpool off their perch. City are emerging as a force, but a century-old rivalry takes some diluting.
Yet United dragged themselves over the line by claiming a point in unconvincing fashion. Blackburn, given the lead by Emerton’s first-half goal, should have won the game. In a season defined by mediocrity throughout the league, United showed themselves to be the best at winning and collecting points when it mattered. Arsenal, Chelsea, City and Liverpool, take note.
”It was a long day. Christ, it was agony at times there,” Ferguson said. ”It was a disappointing game, but I’m not bothered by that. We lost a cheap goal and they were encouraged by that and when they knocked the ball into our box, they were a threat to us.”
Last Sunday’s 2-1 victory against Chelsea at Old Trafford had moved United six points clear of Carlo Ancelotti’s team and left Ferguson’s players with the seemingly routine task of collecting a point from their final two games to clinch the title.
The reality was different. United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak was at fault for Emerton’s opener at the far post. Kuszczak had initially left his goal to chase down a ball inside his penalty area, but stopped halfway after realising Martin Olsson would beat him to it. Backtracking towards goal, Kuszczak was all at sea as Emerton stroked the ball into the net for his third goal of the season. It was then left to Rooney to spare United blushes.
At the other end of the table, Wolves climbed a point clear of the relegation zone after a 3-1 win away to Sunderland.
Former Sunderland defender Jody Craddock gave Wolves a 22nd minute lead on his return to the Stadium of Light before a failure to clear a corner allowed Stephane Sessegnon to smash home a 34th minute equaliser at the far post.
But Matt Jarvis provided the cross that allowed Steven Fletcher to head Wolves in at the far post, George Elokobi sealing victory with a header 12 minutes from time.
Blackpool – who started the day in the bottom three – remained in the relegation zone despite a dramatic 4-3 win at home to Bolton Wanderers ahead of their final game of the season away to Manchester United next weekend.
But victory put them level on 39 points with Birmingham, ahead of the Blues’ match against Fulham on Sunday.
Five goals came in a frantic first half at Bloomfield Road with striker Kevin Davies firing visitors Bolton into a second minute lead only for Blackpool forward DJ Campbell to equalise seven minutes later.
Campbell then teed-up strike partner Jason Puncheon in the 19th minute as Blackpool went 2-1 in front.
But a defence that had conceded 71 league goals this season before this match kicked-off could not deny Bolton an equaliser through Matt Taylor’s angled shot.
However, on the stroke of half-time, Campbell scored his second when he turned in Charlie Adam’s cross.
Bolton though were back on level terms at 3-3 when Daniel Sturridge headed in Lee Chung-Yong’s cross in the 53rd minute.
There was yet another twist when Adam, who led a sweeping counter-attack, shot past Jussi Jaaskelainen from 15 yards to put Blackpool 4-3 in front with just under half an hour left.
Saturday’s other match saw West Brom beat Everton 1-0, Youssouf Mulumbu scoring the only goal of the game at The Hawthorns in the tenth minute.