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May 22, 2011

Birmingham and Blackpool down

Blackpool were relegated in agonising circumstances on Sunday, dropping out of the Premier League by a single point on a dramatic final day of the season. The Tangerines finished below Wigan and Wolves, who both survive, departing the top flight following a brave 4-2 defeat to Manchester United.

They are joined in the bottom three by Birmingham, who also fall into the Championship by a point after they were beaten 2-1 by Tottenham. That result means Wolves stay up despite a 3-2 defeat to Blackburn, while Wigan join them in their celebrations after they completed a miraculous escape by beating Stoke 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium.

Ian Holloway's Blackpool side began the day knowing a whole catalogue of scenarios could save them from relegation, they could even afford to lose and still stay up if other results went their way. However, after leading 2-1 in the second half at Old Trafford, the Tangerines eventually slumped to a fatal defeat.

They should have had the dream start at Old Trafford, the ball falling to Keith Southern inside the opening 60 seconds, but the midfielder dragged wide when it was surely easier to score. The game was so open that a goal had to arrive, and it did through one of the league's most in-form players, Park Ji-sung, who brilliantly dinked Matt Gilks after 21 minutes. The lead could then have been 2-0 on the half-hour as Gilks made a point-blank save from Dimitar Berbatov, but instead it was Blackpool who scored next thanks to a brilliant free-kick from Charlie Adam - momentarily lifting Blackpool out of the relegation zone.

The great escape truly looked on when Gary Taylor-Fletcher nudged Blackpool ahead in the second period, but United were not going to allow their title-winning party to be ruined, hitting back through Anderson, an Ian Evatt own goal and Michael Owen to condemn Blackpool to the drop.

Birmingham join Blackpool in the Championship following a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham, which sees Blues finish a point below Wolves. Alex McLeish's side were five minutes from safety when they were level with Spurs and Wolves were two goals down against Blackburn but it went wrong as Roman Pavlyuchenko scored twice to ensure Spurs finished fifth - guaranteeing Europa League football next season.

Wolves had looked destined for the drop at half-time when they trailed Blackburn 3-0 at Molineux. Jason Roberts, Brett Emerton and Junior Hoilett all scored to ensure a comfortable afternoon for Blackburn, but Jamie O'Hara and Stephen Hunt struck back for Wolves to nudge them to safety as the game finished 3-2.

Wigan also survive after they secured back-to-back victories, defeating Stoke 1-0. The result sees the Latics finish two points clear of the drop zone thanks to Hugo Rodallega's winner.

Liverpool will have no European football to look forward to next season, although that may prove a blessing in disguise as Kenny Dalglish bids to return the club to the Champions League. A sixth-place finish is still something of an achievement for Dalglish after he inherited a club slumped in the bottom half of the table, but the Reds signed off with a 1-0 defeat away to ninth-placed Aston Villa. Stewart Downing lit up Villa Park with a super drive to beat Pepe Reina for the only goal of the game 12 minutes before half-time.

Manchester City are guaranteed a place in the group stage of the Champions League next season after they defeated Bolton 2-0 at the Reebok Stadium. Victory secures a third-place finish for the FA Cup winners, meaning they do not have to negotiate a Champions League qualifying round.

Roberto Mancini's men were far from impressive in the first half, but they should have led when Gareth Barry inexplicably missed from three yards. City did eventually find the net before the interval though, Joleon Lescott nodding home although he knew little about it. Edin Dzeko then added a second after the break, before Daniel Sturridge was sent off - leaving him suspended for the start of next season.

Arsenal paid the price for their brittle end to the league campaign, finishing fourth to leave Arsene Wenger's men facing the minefield that is the Champions League qualifiers. Having won one of their last six in the league, they ended with a 2-2 draw away to Fulham.

Missing the injured Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal paired Robin van Persie and Marouane Chamakh in a rare front two at Craven Cottage, but they still fell behind midway through the first half when Bobby Zamora squared for Steve Sidwell to score against his old club. The lead only lasted four minutes though as Van Persie lifted the ball over Mark Schwarzer for his ninth consecutive goal in away league fixtures.

Arsenal's defence has been shaky all season though, and Zamora nipped in front of Thomas Vermaelen to restore Fulham's lead, only for Zoltan Gera to get sent off. Theo Walcott then grabbed Arsenal a share of the spoils late on.

Carlo Ancelotti will head into crunch talks over his Chelsea future on the back of a 1-0 defeat against Everton, who finished with 10 men at Goodison Park. Ancelotti led Chelsea to second place in the league table but, having spent £75 million on two players, a trophyless season may well see this become his last match in charge.

Everton will be without Seamus Coleman for the start of next season after he was sent off in the second half for two bookable offences, but it did not stop Jermaine Beckford hitting a 74th-minute winner.

Elsewhere on a packed day of action, West Ham signed off from the Premier League with a 3-0 defeat against Sunderland at Upton Park. Boudewijn Zenden opened the scoring, although he knew little about it, before Stephane Sessegnon doubled the advantage five minutes after half-time. Cristian Riveros then added a third in injury-time.

And Newcastle ended the season in 12th place after a 3-3 draw at home to West Brom. Steven Taylor made it three goals in as many games with a 16th-minute opener, and Peter Lovenkrands added to that strike before the break. Jonas Olsson then diverted into his own net as the Baggies appeared to be heading for their summer holidays early, only to spark a remarkable comeback thanks to a Somen Tchoyi hat-trick.

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