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11 May 2008 19:01
Manchester United clinched their 17th English championship on Sunday by beating Wigan 2-0 in a nail-biting finale to the most thrilling Premier League title battle in years.
Pushed to the wire by Chelsea, United claimed the 10th title of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign by two points after their rivals were held to a 1-1 draw by Bolton in their final match.
Cristiano Ronaldo, with a first-half penalty, and Ryan Giggs, on the day he equalled Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of Manchester United appearances, were United’s match-winners.
The Red Devils had been given a huge pre-match boost by the return of Wayne Rooney to the starting line-up and the England forward was to have a decisive influence on the match.
After winning the first-half penalty that enabled Ronaldo to claim his 41st goal of the season, Rooney played in Giggs for the 80th-minute strike that ended any doubt about the destiny of the title.
Equally influential, however, was the fact that all the key decisions made by referee Steve Bennett went United’s way.
The official denied Wigan an early penalty when Rio Ferdinand blocked a shot with his upper arm, awarded a debatable one to United and failed to issue a second yellow card to Paul Scholes for what was a blatant body check by the United midfielder on Wilson Palacios.
Even if they had beaten Bolton, Chelsea would have lost out to United on goal difference.
As it turned out, Kevin Davies’s last-minute equaliser earned Bolton a draw at Stamford Bridge after Andriy Shevchenko had kept Chelsea’s hopes alive with his first goal since December 26.
At the other end of the table, Danny Murphy’s 75th-minute strike gave Fulham a 1-0 win at FA Cup finalists Portsmouth that secured the west London club’s top-flight status.
Fulham’s survival came at the expense of Birmingham and Reading, who will both be playing Championship football next season, along with already relegated Derby.
Both Birmingham and Reading went down fighting, winning their final matches in convincing fashion. Birmingham beat Blackburn 4-1 while Reading were 4-0 winners at Derby.
Reading finished level with Fulham on points but were condemned by an inferior goal difference while Birmingham finished a point further back.
Arsenal, who won 1-0 at Sunderland thanks to a Theo Walcott strike, and Liverpool, 2-0 winners at Tottenham, finished third and fourth respectively.
They will enter the final qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.
Andriy Voronin and Fernando Torres were Liverpool’s scorers.
Everton beat Newcastle 3-1 in their final match to clinch fifth place in the table. An Aiyegbeni Yakubu double and a Joleon Lescott strike ensured David Moyes’s side qualify automatically for the Uefa Cup with Michael Owen finding the net for Newcastle.
What was almost certainly Sven-Goran Eriksson’s last competitive match in charge of Manchester City ended in an ignominious 8-1 thrashing at Middlesbrough.
A hat-trick for Brazilian Afonso Alves, two Stewart Downing goals and strikes from Adam Johnson, Fabio Rochemback and Jeremie Aliadiere enabled Boro to finish their season on a high.
City’s fate was sealed after captain Richard Dunne was sent off for a foul on Tuncay Sanli that enabled Downing to opening the scoring with a 16th-minute penalty.
Gareth Barry, playing what may have been his final match for the club before an expected summer move to Liverpool, was on the score sheet in Aston Villa’s 2-2 draw at West Ham.
Barry scored after Ashley Young had cancelled out Nolberto Solana’s early free-kick, but Dean Ashton claimed a late equaliser for the Hammers.—AFP
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