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Conte culpable in uneven season

By ESPN Staff

Champions United hit the spot

Jose Mourinho has been arguing for weeks now that Manchester United never concede penalties.

It just about sums up Chelsea's season that when the Red Devils finally did, their opponents missed it.

Any glimmer of hope Chelsea may have had of sneaking past United on the final week of the season was brought to an end by the outstretched leg of Edwin van der Sar as he turned Darius Vassell's spot-kick high into the Manchester air at Eastlands.

The last rites might have been administered 200 miles away at the Emirates Stadium today but Mourinho knew, as did Sir Alex Ferguson, that at that very moment, the battle was over.

All that was left was for the United contingent to come up with their various methods of passing the time until it was officially confirmed the Premiership trophy was heading to Old Trafford.

Ferguson chose golf, Michael Carrick felt he would not be able to avoid watch the irony of Arsene Wenger presenting Ferguson with the cherished prize they have scrapped for so often.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand planned a walk in the Cheshire countryside with his 10-month-old son Lorenz, hoping to avoid the abuse he suffered when he embarked on a similar stroll during United's comeback win over Everton last Saturday.

'I was out walking with my son during the Everton game and a bloke kept driving past me shouting '1-0', '2-0'. You're rubbish,' he revealed.

'I ended up sulking and going home. Then I put the key in the door and I got a text from Kieron Dyer saying 'your team is unbelievable'.

'We were 3-2 up by then and I was going mad in the house.'

The 136th Manchester derby will certainly not be remembered for anything that happened on the pitch, other than Michael Ball's disgraceful stamp on Cristiano Ronaldo that seems certain to trigger FA action at some point early this week.

But, in shrugging off the tiredness in their limbs and the mental fatigue of elimination from the Champions League, United ensured their fans will forever be able to celebrate May 2007 as the month they won the league at City.

'The result in midweek against AC Milan was very disappointing,' said Ferdinand.

'The lads were very low on the way back home.

'But the manager spoke to us on Friday and gave us a few home truths.

'He wanted to make sure we went out against City and performed. Thankfully, that is what we managed to do.'

Ferdinand may not be wedging another medal into an already bulging cabinet like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, but the England defender has been a Red Devil long enough to know what it feels like to be a champion.

There are plenty who have moved to Old Trafford in the intervening four years who do not.

Carrick, Nemanja Vidic, Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith and even Van der Sar are among the group from yesterday's starting line-up, although the veteran Dutchman did enjoy plenty of similar success in his early days with Ajax.

Wayne Rooney's only previous winners' medal came in the Carling Cup, so the young Merseysider now has a more suitable reward for his talent.

So too does Ronaldo, whose mesmerising skill has provided the platform for so much of United's success this season.

Fittingly, it was the winger touted by his manager as the best player in the world who kept his nerve to send Andreas Isaksson the wrong way after he had made Ball pay for his thuggishness in the sweetest manner possible, when he tricked the City defender into a mis-timed tackle inside the area.

It was his 23rd goal of a stellar campaign, bringing him level with Rooney in the club scoring charts.

'It was a great piece of skill from Ronaldo to get the penalty and when the pressure was on, he stepped up and produced,' said Ferdinand.

Until referee Rob Styles harshly ruled Wes Brown had fouled Ball 11 minutes from time, it appeared United would coast him.

Van der Sar's heroics ensured such a scenario eventually unfolded, quashing any suggestion United's European hangover would linger long enough to drag them down in the league as well.

'Every time we have suffered a setback this season, we have bounced back even better,' said Carrick, before outlining how good it would feel to go to Stamford Bridge as champions on Wednesday.

Thanks to Arsenal, the former Tottenham player will get his wish.