MANCHESTER, England—In the final moments of the Premier League’s most dramatic season yet, Manchester City had just enough time to produce one last, stunning twist.
With the club’s title hopes fading by the second, and with fans anxiously pulling at their hair in the stands as a stubborn Queens Park Rangers clung to a surprising 2-1 lead after 90 minutes, City threw all of its attacking might forward to secure one of English football’s greatest comebacks.
Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero both scored in injury time to clinch a 3-2 victory that secured the club’s first league title since 1968, finishing ahead of crosstown rival Manchester United on goal difference.
“It’s a crazy finish for a crazy season,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “I’ve never seen a final like this.”
No one had.
After a season in which the balance of the title race shifted back and forth between the Manchester clubs numerous times, City seemed to have thrown it all away by letting 10-man QPR rally from a goal down to take the lead in the second half, while United completed a 1-0 win at Sunderland.
But Dzeko headed in an equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time to give the City fans hope, and Aguero then clinched the title when he slalomed through the QPR defense and blasted the ball into the net.
As Mancini raised his hands and ran along the touchline, Aguero — the son-in-law of Diego Maradona — tore his shirt off in jubilation before he was mobbed by his teammates.
“He was crying on the floor,” City captain Vincent Kompany said. “All the guys were pouring their eyes out. You don’t see strong personalities like that showing their emotion so often.”
Moments earlier, United had completed its victory at Sunderland and the players were lingering on the pitch ready to start celebrating title No. 20, waiting for the result of the City game.
Instead, a party 44 years in the making burst into life back in the blue half of Manchester as fans flooded the City pitch and ignited blue smoke canisters.
“Miracles do happen in Manchester,” Kompany said. “This time it’s on this side of the road.”
Now United will have to live with the fact that the club once dismissed by manager Alex Ferguson as a “noisy neighbor” has won the league.
United had won 12 of its 19 titles since City last won the English championship for just the second time in 1968. In the meantime, City climbed back into the Premier League from the depths of the third tier and became a credible title challenger after a takeover by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, who has invested more than $1 billion into the club over three years.
“It was really important to start winning this championship,” Mancini said. “Manchester City can have a big future now.”
The Manchester rivals have traded places atop the standings all season, but City had to overturn an eight-point lead United held five weeks ago to finish on top.
“We didn’t deserve to lose, we had a lot of chances and we deserved to win the game and championship,” Mancini said. “It’s fantastic for the club and the supporters after 44 years.”
It was the first time since 1989 that the English title was decided in such dramatic circumstances. Arsenal and Liverpool finished level on points and had the same goal difference, and the Gunners were awarded ’89 title on total goals.
“I never stopped believing,” Kompany said. “When Edin scored that goal, it reminded me of so many other moments during the season when we’ve done this before. There was no reason not to believe.”
City struggled to break down a QPR side which had been facing relegation on Sunday but managed to survive in the top flight despite the loss.
The QPR goal was finally breached in the 39th minute when keeper Paddy Kenny flapped at Pablo Zabaleta’s shot while on his knees and palmed the ball over himself into the net.
QPR equalized on a blunder by City. Joleon Lescott went to make a simple headed clearance but instead knocked the ball backward and Djibril Cisse was primed to seize on the defender’s mistake by driving a shot past Joe Hart.
City’s task seemed to be made easier when Joey Barton lost his cool and elbowed Carlos Tevez as a cross came into the penalty area from Zabaleta.
The QPR captain was seething after receiving the red card by referee Mike Dean and kneed Aguero as he left the pitch, as players from both sides moved to placate the raging player, who had to be dragged off the pitch.
Despite City enjoying the one-man advantage, QPR went in front on a rare counterattack.
Armand Traore was given space to go down the left flank before picking out the Jamie Mackie, unmarked in the penalty area, who sent a downward header past Hart in the 66th.
“When we were losing 2-1, I thought, ‘We’ll score one goal and we’re still going to lose,'” Zabaleta said. “I don’t want to wake up from this. You just look at the players and the fans, everybody deserves this.
“The most important thing for any team is when you believe. If you believe in yourself, you win. We believed until the last minute.”
United was also clinging to belief as they awaited the outcome of the City-QPR match.
In the end, however, Alex Ferguson’s squad left the Sunderland pitch stunned by what had transpired. Fans stood with hands on heads in bewildered silence.
“It’s a cruel way [to lose the title],” Ferguson said. “We’ve experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years I’ve been here, most of them have been great. We’ve won the title three times on the last day; today we nearly did it.”