Manchester United came to Blackburn to rain on Manchester City's parade, not produce a damp squib of their own, but until the softest of penalties came to their rescue in the 73rd minute they were in danger of stealing a cue from their rivals and fluffing their lines with the world watching. Wayne Rooney's spot-kick meant the 19th title arrived in the end and, although it was hardly clinched in the most stirring manner, it was indicative of United's stuttering season. It will make no difference to the history books, or the United celebrations.
"Are you watching Merseyside?" was the deafening chant from the Darwen End on the final whistle, and the travelling United fans also managed to get up City noses by reminding their neighbours that they too are going to Wembley in a fortnight's time. For once, City's comedy club reputation could not be blamed for a ludicrous devaluing of FA Cup final traditions – fault for that lies squarely with the spineless organisation itself – yet few clubs other than City could be quite so unlucky as to find themselves upstaged on their day in the Wembley sun because of their greatest rivals becoming the most successful club in English history.
"It was a long day, it was agony watching at times, but we got there in the end," Sir Alex Ferguson said. "I was a bit disappointed in the performance, to be honest, but I'm not particularly bothered by that. It is a great achievement to win a 19th title."
Blackburn spent the first 20 minutes struggling to get out of their own half, although it turned out they were just lulling their opponents into a false sense of security. No sooner had United been given the impression that all they had to do was use unlimited possession to break down a massed defence than Blackburn launched a few attacks of their own. For all of the visitors' early dominance, the best chance they created was in the fourth minute, when Nani put a header against the bar from Rooney's cross.
Yet despite Blackburn seeing much less of the ball, they managed to make their rare upfield excursions count. Chris Samba had already scooped a shot over the bar and Jason Roberts just failed to take advantage of Tomasz Kuszczak's hesitation in dealing with a back pass by the time a strike by Brett Emerton put the home side in front.
Again, the substitute United goalkeeper looked nervous and uncertain, first failing to deal with Emerton's original cross, then needlessly leaving his line in a vain attempt to recover the ball. Blackburn successfully prevented it from going out, then, when Martin Olsson whipped in a low cross, Emerton was still in position to sidefoot home, with Jonny Evans unable to make an effective challenge.
No matter, there were still 70 minutes of the game left and plenty of time for the famous United cavalry charge, yet, although the champions elect stayed commendably calm and unhurried after going behind, Paul Robinson only had one save to make before the interval, tipping an effort from Javier Hernández around the post fairly comfortably. After an hour had passed without Robinson being asked to do much more, Ferguson responded to the United supporters' chant of "attack, attack, attack" by sending on Paul Scholes for the disappointing Fábio da Silva and switching Antonio Valencia to right-back. Scholes' first act was to kick Morten Gamst Pedersen up in the air, which was not the sort of attack Ferguson wanted to see, and neither was the Blackburn one that culminated in Olsson striking a post from Emerton's cross when a goal looked certain.
United got lucky in the end when Robinson rashly brought down Hernández to concede a hotly disputed penalty. There was little doubt the goalkeeper made contact with the Mexican rather than the ball, but that was largely because Hernández had all but knocked the ball dead and had little hope of reaching it. It would be harsh to say he was playing for the penalty, but he was certainly moving away from goal and although, technically, the assistant whom Phil Dowd consulted was correct in affirming contact had taken place, one could fully understand the Rovers players' protestations.
"I thought he might have been going down before the goalkeeper caught him," Steve Kean said. "I asked Phil and he said it was his decision to award the penalty, he just spoke to his linesman to check. It was a tough call and maybe we were a bit unlucky. But if Olsson's header had gone in, we might have had all three points."
Rooney scored emphatically from the spot to bring United level and leave Blackburn looking for a last-day result at Wolves. He then did his best to earn two extra points two minutes later with a perfect cross from which Nani somehow conjured a miss in front of goal. Only then did Ferguson send on Dimitar Berbatov, who scored five in the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford. He was unable to score here, United settling for keep-ball in the last 10 minutes and Blackburn content with a point, but the only score that finally mattered, as several banners in the Darwen End pointed out, was 19-18 to United.
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT
BILL BOADEN, Observer reader A good result. It did end rather farcically- with 15 minutes to go both sides had the point they needed and just passed it around the back four. The result suited both sides. We scored a deserved goal and I'm pleased we put in a good performance.
The fan's player ratings Robinson 7; Salgado 8, Samba 8 (Andrews 78 6), P Jones 8, Givet 8; Hoilett 7 (Pedersen 57 6), Nzonzi 7, Emerton 8, J Jones 5 (Dunn 73 6), Olsson 7; Roberts 6
SHAUN O'DONNELL, Observer reader The result was better than the performance. People have said we have been the 'inconvincibles' but look where we are. A real squad effort and it's down to Sir Alex Ferguson. When he bought Chicharito we didn't expect him to be the main striker but he's been the bargain of the century.
The fan's player ratings Kuszczak 5; Fabio 6 (Scholes 61 8), Ferdinand 7, Vidic 7, Evans 6; Valencia 7, Giggs 7, Carrick 7, Nani 7(Berbatov 81 6); Rooney 7, Hernandez 7
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