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May 13, 2012

City win title in injury time

The city of Manchester is officially under blue control after Sergio Aguero incredibly helped Manchester City come from 2-1 down in injury-time to end their 44-year wait for the tag of 'English champions' on Sunday.

• Jolly: The greatest escape
• Elated Mancini hails crazy finish
• Ferguson congratulates City
• Barton sorry for red mist

After the most phenomenal climax to a Premier League season, there was cause for double celebration at the Etihad Stadium as City lifted their first top-flight title since 1968, while QPR survived relegation courtesy of Bolton's draw at Stoke. The Champions League places go to Arsenal and Tottenham, for now at least in the case of Spurs, after what was a compelling final day of Premier League action.

Manchester City have been, without question, the best team in England this season, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other side. They required three points at home to QPR in order to witness Vincent Kompany lifting the Premier League trophy, but it needed a quite incredible injury-time fightback as Edin Dzeko and then Aguero scored in a dramatic 3-2 victory.

Roberto Mancini said it would be his "greatest achievement" if he was able to wrest the league title away from United, and after a season when he has had to deal with severe hindrances in Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, the Italian's name rightly echoed around fortress Etihad - where no visitor has won a league game all season.

It was absolute one-way traffic at Eastlands as QPR barely got out of their own half, but after news of a Wayne Rooney goal at Sunderland filtered into the ground City suffered a nervy period when the title was slipping away. That agonising spell appeared to have been brought to an end by Pablo Zabaleta, thanks to the soft hands of Paddy Kenny, but a shocking error from Joleon Lescott brought back City's pain.

Seemingly in no danger, Lescott opted to blindly flick the ball back to Joe Hart, succeeding only in playing Djibril Cisse clean through for a powerfully volleyed equaliser. City's cause was aided by former player Joey Barton, who really should have been shown three red cards after he elbowed Carlos Tevez, for which he was sent off, then before he left the pitch he kicked out at Sergio Aguero and aimed a headbutt at Kompany.

With half an hour still to play, a winning City goal surely had to arrive, but instead it was Jamie Mackie who stole in at the back post to send QPR - and United - into raptures. City threw everything at Rangers, but as the clock ticked into injury-time the score remained 2-1.

Suddenly there was hope when Dzeko managed to bundle home for 2-2 with less than four minutes of added still to play. And, with Mancini a ball of anguish on the sidelines, it was Aguero who broke into the box in the 94th minute to score the most dramatic title-winning goal in Premier League history. Manchester United started the day knowing victory at Sunderland likely wouldn't be enough to overhaul City, and so it proved despite their 1-0 victory at the Stadium of Light. Back in October Sir Alex Ferguson, following City's 6-1 win at Old Trafford, prophesied that "you never know when goal difference will count", and that one game has ultimately decided the title.

As United's game came to a conclusion, the title was staying at Old Trafford after Wayne Rooney netted the only goal of the game for the Red Devils. A simple strike for the England man, he nodded home unmarked at the back post from a right-wing delivery, later hitting the bar as Sunderland failed to cope with United's top scorer.

However, as United's players stayed on the field to wait for news of City's result, the groans from the travelling faithful told Ryan Giggs and Co all they needed to know as a miraculous title triumph was snatched from their grasp.

QPR's defeat at City meant Bolton could have stayed up, had they won their final game at Stoke's Britannia Stadium. However, Owen Coyle will have to prepare his men for life in the Championship next season after they drew 2-2, leaving them one point adrift of safety.

Stoke were by the far better team in the early stages, although when their 13th-minute opener arrived it was highly controversial. Jonathan Walters was the man to net, but his challenge on Adam Bogdan had Bolton screaming for a free-kick.

Bolton gave themselves hope when Mark Davies equalised five minutes before the break, and then an unbelievable error by Thomas Sorensen saw them lead 2-1 at half-time. Kevin Davies was the man with the shot, Sorensen somehow allowing the ball through his hands at the near post.

For a while Bolton's lead, coupled with QPR's result at City, meant the Trotters were staying up, but Walters netted a penalty as everything began to go wrong towards the full-time whistle.

Arsenal guaranteed themselves Champions League football next season, and potentially secured the future services of skipper Robin van Persie, with a 3-2 victory over West Brom at the Hawthorns. With Chelsea capable of snatching the fourth Champions League qualifying spot if they beat Bayern Munich in next week's final, it was imperative that Arsenal finished third, which they managed thanks to goals from Yossi Benayoun, Andre Santos and Laurent Koscielny. The Gunners needed all of four minutes to break the deadlock at the Hawthorns, and the goal came from Chelsea loanee Benayoun, although it owed much to an inexplicable Marton Fulop fumble as the Israeli's through-ball somehow found its way into the net.

However, the lead lasted only six minutes as an awful offside decision allowed the Baggies to level. Shane Long was two yards in front of the last defender when he latched onto the ball, stroking past Wojciech Szczesny for new England boss Roy Hodgson. Worse was to come too as Arsenal conceded again inside the opening quarter of an hour, Graham Dorrans putting Wenger's side in real danger at 2-1.

Arsenal were back level by half-time though, Andre Santos lashing a 22-yard screamer beyond Fulop as the Gunners showed plenty of character in the fight for third. They were helped enormously by Fulop, who committed yet another error as Koscielny put Arsenal back in front.

Tottenham are the team facing a nervy 90 minutes next week after their 2-0 win over Fulham was only enough to secure fourth in the table - disappointingly a point behind Arsenal. A Chelsea defeat to Bayern would send Spurs into the Champions League next year but victory for the Blues would leave Harry Redknapp's men contemplating life in the Europa League.

Ultimately Spurs' fate was taken out of their own hands by Arsenal's win at the Hawthorns. Goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe ensured Redknapp's men remain in contention for a place at Europe's top table.

It took just two minutes for Spurs to strike at White Hart Lane, Adebayor exchanging a one-two with Luka Modric to settle early nerves. They were then grateful to veteran keeper Brad Friedel, who produced two fine saves to deny Fulham an equaliser. Jermain Defoe's strike just after the hour settled the contest.

Newcastle needed either Arsenal or Tottenham to drop points in order to have a chance of a top-four finish, after what has been a magnificent season under Manager of the Year Alan Pardew. In the end, results elsewhere mattered little as the Magpies were beaten 3-1 by Everton, who finish above Liverpool in the table.

Toffees goalkeeper Tim Howard was a spectator in the opening 15 minutes as Newcastle offered little, and the visitors deservedly fell behind when Steven Pienaar found the net with the help of a deflection off Mike Williamson. The lead was quickly doubled inside half an hour as January signing Nikica Jelavic added yet another to his Everton account, before Johnny Heitinga netted a third. Tim Cahill was sent off after the final whistle after a scuffle with Newcastle players and he will now miss the first three games of next season. Liverpool avoided the prospect of finishing outside the top eight in the top flight for the first time since they were promoted back into the top flight in 1962, although it was a hurdle they cleared in little style, losing 1-0 at Swansea. The result means Liverpool finish below Everton, while Swansea finish a commendable 11th in their first Premier League campaign. It is second time Liverpool have finished eighth since their first season back in the top flight in 1962-63.

Aston Villa's Premier League safety was officially confirmed despite suffering a 2-0 defeat at Norwich. A miracle set of results could still have seen Villa relegated on the final day, but they can now plan for next season under Alex McLeish.

Grant Holt did his chances of an England call-up for Euro 2012 no harm with the opener on eight minutes, with Simeon Jackson doubling Norwich's advantage midway through the first half as they finish 12th.

Elsewhere, Chelsea can head to Germany for the Champions League final in good spirits after they beat relegated Blackburn 2-1. Roberto Di Matteo rested the entire XI that is expected to play next week, but the Blues still had too much thanks to goals from John Terry and Raul Meireles, with Yakubu grabbing Rovers' consolation.

And Roberto Martinez, linked by Sunday's newspapers to Liverpool, signed off on another successful season for Wigan with a 3-2 win against Wolves. Matthew Jarvis gave new boss Stale Solbakken something to shout about in the ninth minute, but they were quickly pegged back by Franco Di Santo and Emmerson Boyce(2) as Wigan turned the tables, before Steven Fletcher made things interesting at the death.

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