Noisy Neighbours To Party Into The Night
In a Premier League season that’s brought us more twists and turns than the Norwegian rally tour, we might have expected the odd 360 degree slide out in the dirt on the final day of the season. But with a Joey Barton brain-snap, a galant attempt from Mark Hughes at a revenge Gazpacho & a late Manchester revival of the bluest kind, it all seemed a bit more like somebody flipped their Subaru Impreza straight off the side of the mountain.
This was the kind of ‘Relegation Sunday’ climax that had to be seen to be believed and one that became an instant reference point in Manchester rivalry folklore.
Over in Sunderland, United placed some early title pressure on City by netting after just 20 minutes with Rooney’s full head of luscious hair ghosting towards the back post and burying a Phil Jones cross.
Back at Etihad stadium, City had all of the ball but struggled to break down a stubborn Rangers defense. But that all changed as the first half drew to a close, as City put together a slick move that has become a trademark of their season.
Despite having spent the better part of the last 10 minutes hobbling around the park like a Polio inflicted child (we can laugh about it now, there is a vaccine), Yaya Toure made sure he had some lasting impact on the match by playing a short but perfectly weighted through ball with his one working leg into the path of Zabaleta who unleashed a shot at goal. Kenny Paddy got more than a fair chunk of glove on ball which sent it spiraling into the air and 48000 hearts collectively migrated into the mouths of the City supporters at the ground. It seemed as though an eternity passed before the ball finally fell into the corner of the net, with Zabaleta’s first goal of the season as timely as they come and Toure cutting an almost comical figure as he hobbled towards his team mates to celebrate.
As they went in for pep-talks & oranges; the sun was shining, Noel & the high flying birds were singing and City’s Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak looked on with a grin of contentment that suggested the Emiratis were getting something that resembled value for their 800 million pound outlay. The title was in City’s hands and everything appeared to be in its right place.
It was at that point that you could have spent your life savings calling psychic hotlines, for not a single one to come even close to predicting the events that unfolded in the second half. Sure, the majority would have guessed there was a Joey Barton red card on the way, but not even the clearest crystal ball could have seen it coming sandwiched between 2 QPR goals.
The first of the QPR goals came from Cisse, who kept his astonishing record alive of either scoring or being sent off in every game he has played for Rangers. He finished cooly following a terrible defensive header from Joleon Lescott who sent the ball in completely the opposite direction to which he intended.
Then came Barton’s time to do what he does best, and in a throwback to his prison days, the QPR captain managed to elbow, sucker-kick and head-butt 3 different City players all in the space of about a minute. The carnage began with the elbow to Carlos Tevez which brought about the red card, although replays suggested Barton was heavily provoked by the Argentinean striker. The red card was the catalyst for a very public unraveling from Barton, as he marched up to Sergio Aguero who had his back turned and cleated him in the back of the calf. This all made very little sense as the initial problem was with Tevez, although it is entirely possible that all prolific, plucky Argentines with questionable haircuts look the same to Joey Barton. He later said on Twitter that he was merely trying to “take 1 of their players with (him)” which, of course, seems like completely rational behaviour.
Following the dismissal, everyone assumed it would be City who would push on although it was QPR who managed to score next. Jamie Mackie caused a deathly second-place-fearing silence to spread around Etihad stadium by finishing a great counter attacking move that Manchester United fans would have greatly approved of.
City’s title bid looked in dire straits and Roberto Mancini was forced into gesturing like someone who has spent the last decade sniffing petrol. In a moment of clarity, he managed to make some key substitutions bringing on Dzeko and Ballotelli who would both go on to make significant contributions.
As the 5 minutes of injury time began, Dzeko managed to get his head to City’s 19th corner of the match (QPR were yet to have a corner) and breathe life into the match instill a lifetime of regret into the few City fans that had already left the stadium in tears of disappointment. Then just 2 minutes later, the most mind boggling of comebacks was complete when Balotelli played a cheeky pass whilst lying on the ground to Aguero who took a great first touch and finished across the face of goal.
The irony that the 2 goals that brought City victory were both scored in ‘Fergie-time’ will not be lost on United’s or City’s supporters, but this will merely add to the memorable nature of this fascinating day of football. It capped a remarkable year of football and a day of drama which also included Everton finishing above Liverpool, Arsenal holding onto 3rd place in a 5-goal thriller and in a weird twist of Irony – Spurs fans (many of whom are Jewish) becoming instant die-hard supporters of German side, Bayern Munich, in next weekend’s Champions League final.
But the glory of today belonged to City and seen as the champagne has been on ice some 44 years, it is sure to taste even colder & sweeter than any Manchester fan in blue could ever have imagined.