Manchester City’s history has been blotted with success and disaster, and it was only fitting Roberto Mancini’s side won their first top-flight title since 1968 in dramatic circumstances. The Premier League title race has swung back and forth this season, with City leading before a run of three games without a win saw Manchester United surge into an eight-point lead. But the Eastlands outfit secured a pivotal win in the derby before beating Newcastle United at St James’ Park last weekend. The prospect of beating a Queens Park Rangers outfit, who had not won away from home since November, seemed a straightforward task for City, who had only dropped two points at the Etihad in the league this season. But Djibril Cissé cancelled out Pablo Zabaleta’s opener before Jamie Mackie’s strike remarkably put Mark Hughes’ side ahead. With the Red Devils winning at the Stadium of Light, City needed to dig deep and Edin Dzeko levelled in added time before Sergio Aguero scored the dramatic winner and ended City’s 44-year wait.
Cissé’s 48th-minute equaliser gave QPR renewed hope of survival, with Bolton Wanderers winning at Stoke City at the time. But Joey Barton’s moment of madness threatened to unravel Hughes’ cunning game-plan, with the Hoops captain receiving a straight red for an unsavoury clash with Carlos Tévez. The Argentina forward appeared to lash out at Barton but the former City youth graduate was unable to resist temptation and delivered immediate retribution in the form of an elbow which was superbly spotted by the linesman. The 29-year-old also kicked out at Sergio Aguero before being escorted off the pitch by Micah Richards and the QPR staff. It amounted to QPR’s ninth red card of the season – equalling the league’s record tally – and what could have a costly sending off for Hughes’ side paled into insignificance as Bolton were pegged back in a 2-2 draw with Stoke City, resulting in the Trotters’ relegation. Hughes would do well to move the unreliable Barton on during the summer as the Welshman looks to form a squad capable of helping QPR become an established Premier League outfit.
The key to City’s long-term future was winning that all-important first title – and pipping their bitter rivals United means Sunday’s success was significant on many levels. The Eastlands outfit were 6-1 winners at Old Trafford last October and Vincent Kompany’s header handed City a 1-0 win at the Etihad. Other key moments throughout the season include a dramatic 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur, beating Chelsea 2-1 at the Etihad, and perhaps even United’s 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford, which handed the initiative back to Mancini’s side. City went from chokers to champions in five breathtaking minutes, with Aguero notching his 23rd league strike and sealing City’s third top-flight title. For Sir Alex Ferguson, United become the first side to accumulate 89 points and fail to win the Premier League crown. City have played sumptuous football at times this season and despite recent wobbles, there is little doubt that Mancini’s side have earned their first Premier League crown.
Ironically, QPR boss Hughes signed Zabaleta from Espanyol in a £6.5m deal in 2008, with the defender declaring the chance to join City was “impossible to reject”. After a frustrating 39 minutes of slick passing which lacked penetration, City took the lead out of nothing. Zabaleta broke past the QPR defence and unleashed a ferocious drive which goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was only able to parry into the net. Zabaleta was an unlikely goal scorer but was certainly a fitting candidate as one of City’s stalwarts to help the Eastlands outfit place one hand on the Premier League trophy. The 27-year-old worked tirelessly on the right wing against a rugged QPR back four and he epitomised the desire from City to claim the title. The Argentina defender will be assured cult status for his first goal for City in 378 days and his overall contribution to City’s title success.
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