The phrase ‘Manchester Choke’ was mere moments away from becoming permanently entrenched in English football lexicon.
Manchester City was about to lose (or at the very best not win) the most important match in 44 years, and they were going to fall to a shorthanded, relegation-threatened side in away kits resembling the University of Maryland.
But the Citizens woke up just in time to score two late tallies to pull off easily the most dramatic finish of a regular season in the 20-year Premier League era.
Did they have to make it so difficult though?
Let’s just say that by the 94th minute QPR had Man City’s supporters almost in need of CPR.
Figuratively of course.
The trophy and the medals were all ready to be handed out to Manchester United, who was in the process of closing out a 1-nil away win at Sunderland.
Going into those final moments, there was still a magic number of two that would allow Man City to win the title – either score twice on QPR for the win, or score once while MUFC somehow conceded a late goal and settle for a draw themselves. Or most unlikely, MUFC completely folding and giving up two goals to lose their game – and allow City to back into the title.
The Man City match wound up going a lot like I previewed back on Friday. I said QPR would play them tough before doing something stupid and seeing one of their players red-carded, leaving them to play the rest of the way with ten men.
Enter captain Joey Barton, who retaliated from some physical play with an elbow to the side of the head of Carlos Tevez, which got him immediately sent off.
Feeling a need to get his money’s worth after that, Barton then went Metta World War on the rest of the Man City squad. First he assaulted Sergio Aguero in the back of the knee, then attempted to head-butt Vincent Kompany while equally controversial Mario Balotelli and other City players who ran off the bench to confront him.
And then Barton still wasn’t done. Former player Alan Shearer, doing his duty as a studio analyst for the BBC, naturally ripped into Barton during a post-match television segment. So Barton spent Sunday night responding to Shearer on social media, saying ‘I really don’t like that prick, in fact I honestly despise him – goodnight’. At least in an earlier tweet he did confess to having ‘F’d up…’ and ‘thanked’ Shearer for stating the obvious.
Needless to say, Barton has earned himself a nice long vacation from the professional ranks. I’m guessing somewhere around 18-20 games will do, which will take him to next Christmas. But at least @Joey7Barton picked up a lot of new followers that will be awaiting his next epic meltdown.
I thought the game had virtually been decided at that point – only to see Jamie Mackie score on a header on a rare counter-attack to put QPR in the lead.
Meanwhile Manchester United supporters were going nuts hearing the news on radios and other media devices while their game was simultaneously going on.
But no one was going to give up on City until the final whistle, especially considering the two quick scores they put on Sunderland in an equally dire situation just six weeks earlier, even as the five minutes of added time (put on mostly because of the earlier Barton circus) were being displayed.
Finally, Edin Dzeko scored off a corner kick, then a final desperate run ended with Balotelli finding Aguero for the game-winner and sending Ethiad Stadium into a frenzy. All that was left was the post-match pitch invasion and City accepting the trophy while “Hey Jude” fittingly blared over the PA system.
Final scoreline: Manchester City 3, Queens Park 2.
That exact moment brought a surreal scene at Manchester City’s game, which had just gone final. MUFC had been thinking they had just won the title, but could tell by the crowd reaction that something major had just gone down at Man City. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson knew and immediately pointed for his troops to quietly leave the pitch. It was like Nathan Poole had struck.
Immediately after Survival Sunday had ended I read various columns/blogs, with one trying to compare to what had just occurred to what would be hypothetical equivalents in U.S. sports.
You really can’t, for there is no playoffs to determine the English Premier League champion, although European soccer also has tourneys such as the FA Cup and the Champions League.
The craziest thing that had occurred somewhat recently was Manchester United scoring to late goals to steal the 1999 Champions League Final – it also completed the ‘treble’ that year for MUFC (winning EPL regular season/FA Cup/Champions League) and resulted in Alex Ferguson getting knighted soon afterwards.
If you want to compare to other sports, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series might be a good benchmark, or Game 6 of the 1986 World Series/Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, or Bobby Thomson/Ralph Branca in 1951.
But the beauty of the format is that soccer has what baseball used to have – a pennant race. I’ve drawn up my own personal plan to ‘Americanize’ the EPL. Expand to 24 teams and align it into four six-team divisions each year. Division rivals play each other four times and everyone else in the league once. That would leave a 38-game schedule, as is the case now. The season would end with four division winners and four wild-cards meeting in the playoffs – with the division winners earning the ‘away-goal’ tie-breaker for the first-round.
The EPL purists would throw such a plan out on its ear, and rightfully so.
The larger worry is several of the EPL’s current owners starting a potential movement to do away with the current promotion/relegation format, which I never want to see. It adds a season-long drama element to the game that cannot be matched in any of the U.S. sports.
Incidentally, QPR did still avoid relegation, as Bolton conceded a late penalty and settled for a 2-2 draw at Stoke City. That ends an 11-year run at the top flight for the Wanderers, and it’s always sad to see teams that neutrals enjoy seeing play end up being relegated to the Championship. For 2012-13 the EPL will now see five teams who were not involved in 2010-11, the winner of the West Ham/Blackpool playoff in the Championship will yo-yo back to the EPL after a one-year hiatus.
Meanwhile Arsenal and Tottenham took care of business to earn third and fourth place in the league respectively – Arsenal earns a 2012-13 Champions League berth and Tottenham would do likewise if Chelsea does not earn an automatic bid they would receive if they were to beat Bayern Munich for this year’s UCL title next week.
Man City’s title is the culmination of a $1 billion investment from the wealthy Arab owners who had bought the team a few years back. Yes, money can buy a lot in the club football world. Without winning Sunday, the team would have been called out for not bringing home the trophy. Now with the elusive first trophy out of the way, the Citizens will be primed to continue to be contenders for the foreseeable future, not only for domestic titles, but also in the Champions League and the FA Cup, where they crashed out early this year.
Was Survival Sunday enough for everyone? If it was not – then there is the UCL Final on Saturday and a little something called Euro 2012 following that, an event that is now heavily carried by ESPN.
Where are the critics calling soccer boring now?