What We Learned from Each Premier League Game on Seismic Survival Sunday
Manchester City have won their first league title since 1968 after beating QPR in the most dramatic of fashions at the Etihad Stadium.
As the game entered injury time, City were 2-1 down to relegation-threatened QPR and the title was heading across Manchester to Old Trafford and arch rivals United, but two goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero turned the match and the Premier League title race on its head.
Heading into the last game of the season, Manchester City only needed to win or match Manchester United's result to claim their first title in 44 years. But football is rarely straightforward, and as events unfolded, the final moments of the 2011-'12 season were to turn out to be the most breathtaking of all time.
Here we take a look at each of the Premier League matches on what turned out to be a truly unforgettable day.
10. Roberto Martinez Is a Manager on the Up (Wigan 3-2 Wolves)
The Latics boss has impressed many over the last couple of years with his footballing philosophy and ability to keep Dave Whelan's club in the top flight, despite working with one of the lowest budgets in the Premier League.
Doubts on his ability had begun to surface with Wigan firmly entrenched in the relegation zone at Christmas, but a run of eight wins, four draws and three losses in their final 15 games turned their entire season around.
Martinez, a manager that always tries to play football the right way, found a way to utilise both Sean Maloney and Victor Moses, his two most creative players, by converting to an unconventional 3-6-1 formation from his tried and un-trusted 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 formations.
In the end, this tactical switch was the catalyst for Wigan's fine run in the last 15 games, and it has definitely helped raise his profile.
9. Aston Villa Were Doomed with Alex McLeish in Charge (Norwich 2-0 Aston Villa)
However, it must be said that no other manager in the Premier League has had to endure as many slings and arrows as Alex McLeish this season.
He has had to contend with losing Richard Dunne for three months with a broken collarbone, Darren Bent for three months with ruptured ligaments and Stilian Petrov, who has had to suspend his football career after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. But even with all that considered, Aston Villa's football this season has been un-inspiring, insipid and inept.
Alex McLeish has never been flavor of the month with the Villains fans, having managed arch-rivals Birmingham City, but when compared to Blackburn Rovers fans, they have given Big Eck a relatively easy time.
The problem with Aston Villa is that Randy Lerner seems to be asset-stripping the club with a view to selling up and getting out of Birmingham.
Since taking over the club for £64 million in 2008, he has invested £60 million in transfers but has sold over £100 million worth of talent while trimming the wage bill considerably each year.
Even before McLeish took over from Gerard Houllier, the purse strings at the club had begun to be tightened, and now Randy Lerner has to reap what he has sown.
Alex McLeish has a win record of just 21 percent and has only won nine games from a possible 42 while his record at Birmingham is 36 percent and is still below relegation form.
One thing is for sure; It will take a miracle for Aston Villa to avoid the drop next season - even with Gordon Cowen's exciting crop of youngsters.
For their part in the final day of the season, Aston Villa were as bad as they have been all season, while Paul Lambert's Norwich City capped off a fine season with an easy 2-0 win thanks to goals from Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson.
The highlight of the game? Villa fans chanting "There's only one Paul Lambert."
Randy Lerner could do worse.
8. Alan Pardew Deserves His Manager of the Year Shout (Everton 3-1 Newcastle)
One of the great truths, and quirks, of Premier League football is that Everton always finish the season strongly, and this season was no exception.
David Moyes' men only lost two league games after January 14, and one of those was a strange 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield where the Everton boss dropped practically his entire team for an upcoming FA Cup game against Sunderland. The other loss was against Arsenal in the immediate aftermath of that very FA Cup draw with Sunderland.
Apart from those two games, Everton have been virtually unplayable. Much of this is down to the canny business done by Moyes in the January transfer window when he brought in Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar.
With that in mind, Goodison Park on the last day of the season is one of the last places you would want to go to, but when you have a team led by the one manager who arguably did the best transfer business in the league in January, you will always have a chance.
Newcastle have been a revelation under Alan Pardew this season and have been top four contenders all season, when some thought they might even be relegated.
Their season started off with an amazing unbeaten run of 14 games in all competitions, before eight defeats in 16 games threatened to derail their season. But the signing of Papis Cisse was the catalyst to push them back into Champions League contention.
Thirteen goals in 14 games for the Senegalese international rocketed Newcastle up the league, and as we headed into the last game of the season, the Magpies still had a chance of finishing an unlikely third.
It wasn't to be as Pienaar and Jelavic inspired Everton to easily dispose of the traveling Toon Army.
But when all is said and done, Alan Pardew did a miraculous job at the Sports Direct Arena. He is a deserved nominee for manager of the year, and by all rights he should win it.
7. Kenny Dalglish Is Under Severe Pressure at LFC (Swansea 1-0 Liverpool)
Take a look at the photograph up above. It could be one that you will see more of next season if Brendan Rogers is given the Liverpool hot seat.
Make no bones about it: Liverpool, despite winning their first trophy in six years, have gone backwards this season under Kenny Dalglish.
This current team is now populated by average to good players with only two players of any real stature standing out—Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard.
They have no fixed pattern or style of play, and everything looks mismanaged both on and off the pitch. The handling of the Luis Suarez affair has been embarrassing, and having finished the season with their worst ever Premier League points total, Dalglish is rightly under pressure.
Brendan Rogers, on the other hand, has had to make do with a budget approximately one quarter the size of his Liverpool counterparts, and he has led his Swansea team to a highly credible 11th-placed finish with 47 points—just five points behind Liverpool.
The other factor in Rogers' favor is that they have achieved this placing playing what many regard as the best football in the league.
Indeed, Rogers' training isn't over yet. A firm disciple of Pep Guardiola and the Barcelona style of play, the Swans boss will meet up with Vicente Del Bosque and Spain as they prepare for Euro 2012. There he will be given a front row seat for all the world champions and reigning European champions' training sessions between now and the tournaments end.
With all this talk of managers, it would be remiss not to mention Danny Graham's 100th goal of his career.
He has been a hugely successful signing by Rogers—12 goals in 25 games—since signing from Watford for £3.5 million last summer. He has a far better return than Andy Carroll, who has scored just nine in 47 despite costing ten times as much as Graham.
6. Chelsea's Season Depends Upon Champions League (Chelsea 2-1 Blackburn)
Whether Chelsea's season is a success or not depends upon next Saturday's Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
For a team with the highest wage bill in the Premier League to finish sixth is nothing short of embarrassing. This is why Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and why Roberto Di Matteo was given the task of finishing out the season.
To his credit, the Swiss-born ex-Italian international has done well with just three defeats in 20 games as manager. He has masterminded the Pensioners FA Cup triumph over Liverpool, knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League and helped turn his club's season around when all looked lost in March.
But none of that will matter if they lose against Bayern next week. His future as manager and the future of some of his players depend upon victory. Nothing less will keep Roman Abramovich happy.
Today, they bested relegated Blackburn 2-1. Not much more to add on that one, really.
5. Bolton Were Doomed from Day One (Stoke 2-2 Bolton)
Bolton were not relegated after drawing 2-2 at the Britannia with Stoke City. They were relegated last summer when Owen Coyle allowed Johan Elmander and Daniel Sturridge to leave the club without replacing either.
Last season, Bolton only scored 52 goals across the entire season with Elmander and Sturridge scoring a healthy 18 goals between them. Add in season-long injuries to Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee, their most creative players (eight goals and 12 assists last year between them), and you have a recipe for disaster.
It all adds up when you find that Bolton only scored 46 goals this term and only won ten games all season.
The maths is simple: You can't take 26 goals from a team without suffering huge consequences.
Even with all that considered, Owen Coyle's team still had it within their own hands to avoid relegation on the final day of the season.
They went behind to an early goal from Johnathan Walters after the Euro 2012-bound Irish striker bundled the ball out of Adam Bogdan's hands and into the net.
The goal should never have stood—it was a foul, clear and simple.
Somehow they fought back into the game and took the lead through a fortuitous Kevin Davies goal after his cross eluded Thomas Sorensen.
The Gods weren't in any mood for forgiveness, though, and a 10-minute spell between the 65th minute and the 75th minute effectively ended their season.
The first decisive moment came at the Etihad, when Jamie Mackie put 10-man QPR ahead 2-1. This, of course, meant that Wanderers were relegated regardless of their result at Stoke.
As heads and hearts wilted, Peter Crouch was taken down for a penalty by Bogdan after the 'keeper had saved the striker's initial shot.
The penalty was duly put away by the hugely impressive Walters ,and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bolton are relegated to the Championship and how Coyle copes with the team, certain to be decimated by sales due to a crippling £110 million debt, is anyone's guess.
4. All or Nothing for Spurs, but Only After Champions League Final (THFC 2-0 FFC)
Much of what Spurs want to achieve as a club depends upon the result of the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich next week.
If Chelsea win, then Spurs will be dumped out of the Champions League and into the Europa League. If Bayern Munich win, then Spurs will claim a playoff place before the group stages of the biggest and best club competition on Earth.
The problem for Spurs now is that, for the next seven days, their future is in limbo.
At present they possess some of the best young players in the world, never mind the Premier League. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Kyle Walker are three very excellent players who would improve any team and it is no surprise to see other teams covet them.
If Spurs can hold onto their stars and compete in the Champions League, they will be on the verge of something very special at the club.
Next season will see Spurs move into a new state-of-the-art training facility and will also see development begin on re-building White Hart Lane to a 60,000 seater stadium.
As ever with Spurs, and their fans know this better than anyone, it is all or nothing. It all may depend upon the Champions League next week.
3. Gunners Still Struggling to Reach Required Heights (WBA 2-3 Arsenal)
Arsenal's 3-2 come-from-behind win at West Brom cannot be underestimated in terms of importance for the club, but it came in the worst way possible.
This was no superb comeback a la Manchester City. No, this win came thanks to Marton Fulop and what may turn out to be the worst Premier League debut of all time.
The ex-Spurs 'keeper—yes, you read that right, Arsenal fans—was only parachuted into the starting XI after regular goalie, and Gunners' nemesis, Ben Foster was forced to withdraw at the last moment.
Fulop was at fault for all three Arsenal goals. It would be no exaggeration to say that Roy Hodgson really could have picked anyone from the crowd and they would have done a better job.
But what is most concerning for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal is that they only had three shots on goal in a game that mid-table West Brom bossed for most parts.
Arsenal, like Spurs, have struggled when under pressure this season, and also like their North London rivals, so much for next season depends upon holding onto their star player—Robin van Persie.
The Dutch striker was in no mood to discuss his future at the Emirates after helping his side to their 3-2 win, but it is widely accepted that the player, out of contract next season, is on the wanted list of Europe's most powerful clubs.
As far as Arsene Wenger is concerned, he is in something of a predicament. Van Persie is without doubt the only world-class talent at the Gunners, and selling him may deplete his squad somewhat.
However, it may also be the only way for Wenger to turn Arsenal into a title-challenging team as the Frenchman is unlikely to be given the funds to strengthen significantly. So selling his star pupil for excess of £50 million may be the best business all around.
2. Manchester United Are Not Good Enough (Sunderland 0-1 Man United)
The last time Manchester United played Sunderland on the final day of the season was in 1968—the last time Manchester City won the title.
So the omens were not in favour of Sir Alex Ferguson's men going into the match. Credit to the Red Devils, they went out and did all they could with a convincing 1-0 win, and credit to Sir Alex for being magnanimous in defeat—as you would expect from any great competitor.
However, even though his team finished level on points with the rivals and lost the title on the last game of the season with the last kick of the ball, he will know in his heart of hearts that this season has been one of the most disappointing in his 26 years at the Old Trafford helm.
United are in trouble as a team, and as well as they did, the credit must go to Ferguson for dragging and dredging every available ounce out of a squad that is just not good enough.
Their midfield is poor, their defence is not as solid as it should be, their 'keeper is still learning his trade and they only have one world-class player—Wayne Rooney.
They were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, out of the Europa League after being thoroughly outplayed by Athletic Bilbao, out of the FA Cup by Liverpool and they collapsed on the league run in with what has to be the greatest choke in English football history.
There is much work to do for Sir Alex if he is to compete for a title against the coming blue tide that will inevitability strengthen during the summer.
Will he be given the cash to buy the five or six players he needs to regain the title?
Or will Manchester City squeeze the life out of the Premier League and retire Sir Alex without another title?
This summer will reveal all.
1. Manchester City Win First League Title in 44 Years with 44th Shot on Goal
You just couldn't make this stuff up.
Heading into the last game of the season, all City needed to do was win. The team with the best home record in the league versus the team with the worst away record in the league. This would be simple...
Except, the script that was prepared earlier was ripped up and thrown away. As events unfolded, we were to witness the greatest end to a league season ever seen.
Words can barely express what happened in the second half of City's game against QPR, let alone the final two minutes, but, nevertheless, I will give it a go.
Pablo Zabaleta had given City a deserved, but slender, 1-0 lead at half time. QPR hadn't even tried to attack Joe Hart's goal, and the league title looked as good as over as the two teams went down the tunnel at half time.
Whatever the respective managers said during the interval, it was Mark Hughes' team that came out in the second half with renewed vigour. Djibril Cisse fired his team level after Jolean Lescott had been caught under the ball, and his poor header fell nicely to the ex-Liverpool striker to blast home his sixth goal in seven games for the R's.
With their title slipping from their grasp, City's game began to fall apart, and Roberto Mancini was reduced to a screaming spectator from the sidelines as he watched everything crumble.
But in the 66th minute, his team were handed a lifeline by Joey Barton. The controversial Rangers midfielder elbowed Carlos Tevez in the face in an off-the-ball incident that was seen by the linesman, and he deservedly received a red card for violent conduct.
Barton wasn't there, though, and as he made his way through the remonstrating teams he lashed out and kicked Sergio Aguero in the back of the leg before trying to head butt Vincent Kompany!
The one cap wonder was then led from the pitch by Micah Richards, who deserves huge praise for helping to calm the situation down as even Mario Balotelli had leapt from the bench to try and get at Barton.
The QPR midfielder (one wonders for how much longer) then went on Twitter with an amazing rant where he claimed he didn't care what anyone said because his team were safe. Later on that evening, during Match of the Day, the player then launched a verbal assault on Alan Shearer after the England legend heavily criticized him for his behavior.
One thing is for certain, what Barton did yesterday was a cowardly and selfish act and he did not care less if his team survived or not because if he did he would have acted accordingly.
With Rangers down to 10 men, surely it was only a matter of time before City capitalised?
It was not to be, though, as Jamie Mackie scored a brilliant diving header to put his team ahead and basically relegate Bolton at the same time.
City then launched attack upon attack and Paddy Kenny, whose Wikipedia page had been vandalised by Manchester United fans for his mistake in Zabaleta's goal made save upon save to keep his team ahead.
The game then entered injury time with Manchester United, just finished 1-0 winners at Sunderland, ready to be crowned champions.
But then the most amazing end to a season kicked in.
Edin Dzeko met David Silva's perfectly flighted cross, after a wonderful run and jink lost his marker, and all of a sudden City were level with one minute to go.
Somehow, QPR gained possession on the half way line with a throw in, and as City fans punched seats in frustration, tore off jerseys in anger and left the stadium in tears, the unbelievable was about to happen.
All Shaun Wright-Phillips had to do was to throw the ball down the line for Jay Boothroyd to shield, but instead he threw the ball to his striker's head to flick on.
Boothroyd lazily didn't even challenge Jolean Lescott for the ball, and Nigel De Jong regained possession. He fed the ball through to Aguero, who had come off his marker at the edge of the box.
The mercurial Argentinian tried a one-two with Mario Balotelli on the 18-yard line, but the Italian striker began to lose his balance and he backed into the defender. Seeing his teammate about to lose control, Aguero stepped up a gear and took control of the ball in the penalty box.
Seeing the striker had no angle for a shot, Vincent Kompany made the most intelligent and significant run of his career as he dragged Clint Hill out of position.
That yard made all the difference as Aguero charged into the space before evading Hill's last ditch tackle. His shot, their 44th of the game, ballooned in the back of the net as the crowd screamed in rapturous delight—and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was an unbelievable end to an unbelievable season, and City are deserved champions.
Will they go on to dominate the English game in the same fashion as Manchester United have dominated the last 20 years?
Will City go on to become an institution like United or Liverpool?
Only time will tell, but the seeds were planted here.