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May 20, 2013

Clarke: Ferguson leaves a 'champion'

West Bromwich Albion head coach Steve Clarke revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson was in a charitable mood after the curtain fell in sensational style on the Manchester United legend's magnificent managerial career.

• Blog: Baggies bounce back

Fergiuson's easy-going last-day disposition briefly appeared to desert him as Albion fought back from 3-0 and 5-2 down to salvage a stunning 5-5 draw at a disbelieving Hawthorns.

But he was all smiles as he shook the hand of his counterpart before taking a bow in front of the travelling fans and receiving their rapturous applause.

Clarke let on that Ferguson was also amiable company over a glass of fine post-match wine to which England and former Baggies boss Roy Hodgson was also invited.

"Sir Alex said it was a great game and complimented us on the way we played," he said. "It was a great occasion, a great finale.

"It was all a good tribute to him and anyone in the stadium will remember that match. He said it was the first time a team he has been involved with has thrown away a three-goal lead and we've pulled that back twice.

"He was quite complimentary about our season and I wished him all the best for his retirement. He has gone away as a champion.

"And, yes, he knew what the wine was and said it was a good year!"

On a day on which Paul Scholes also said his farewells, Albion had their own departing hero in Romelu Lukaku, who hit a hat-trick as a half-time substitute before returning to his parent club Chelsea.

Lukaku struck at the start of the second half to cut United's lead and later scored two more after the gap between the sides had been stretched to three once more.

Clarke has said he will sound out his former club should they show any interest in setting up another loan deal for the Belgian, who has hit 17 goals in helping Albion to their highest ever Premier League finish, eighth.

But he was relieved for now that his side had avoided sending their fans into the close season with a fourth successive defeat to stew over.

"It was an incredible game and not one to analyse," he added. "It was a day for just sitting back and enjoying it.

"We had a Plan A which went out of the window in the first few minutes. United showed why they are champions - I thought they were absolutely irresistible at that time.

"At 2-0 and 3-0, it looked like it was going to be a really hard afternoon but this group know how to get results. Scoring the fourth goal was crucial and gave us something to get our teeth into.

"We made some changes (at half-time). We couldn't cope defensively, so we went a bit more offensive and then United put their foot down and went away again.

"But we dug in, got the next goal and chased the game really well. When we got it to 5-5, I thought we were going to nick it.

"I've never been involved in a 5-5 draw before. Losing 5-4 at Tottenham with Chelsea would be the closest."

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