Football? Bloody hell
Preamble Hello and welcome to live coverage of the final day of the Devon Loch Trophy 2011-12. Manchester City tried to throw away the title with a laughable collapse in March and early April, but in the end Manchester United had just a bit too much experience: they effortlessly blew an eight-point lead in just four games, and now City need an almost unprecedented act of bottlejobbery this afternoon to hand the title to United. You never know.
You do know. United should have known when they saw the fixture list back in June. Playing Sunderland in the last week of the season never bodes well for them: the last two times they did so, in 1936-37 and 1967-68, Manchester City won their only two championships. Before today.
Still, it could be worse for United. It's not 26 April 1992, for one. On the field at least, that will always be the darkest day. Nor is it 24 April 1937, when City lifted the title and United were relegated. Footage of that is exasperatingly absent from YouTube.
There, doing a Devon Loch doesn't seem bad now, does it. Also, there's a 0.0000000000000000000001 per cent chance this will turn out to be one of the greatest days in United's history. Can they do it? Can the steal a 20th title from under City's nose? Clue: no.
Sunderland (4-3-3) Mignolet; O'Shea, Turner, Bramble, Bardsley; Gardner, Vaughan, Colback; Campbell, Sessegnon, McClean.
Subs: Bridge, Wickham, Ji, Meyler, Kyrgiakos, Elmohamady, Westwood.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1) De Gea; Jones, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Valencia, Giggs, Young; Rooney.
Subs: Amos, Rafael, Owen, Berbatov, Park, Hernandez, Nani.
Referee Mr Howard Webb.
1. A dignity-free plug for my book. It got five stars in FourFourTwo. Out of five! Buy it, or else. I know your IP address.
2. Etgar Keret goes off on a comedic one about United and Real Madrid.
3. The best Manchester United save you've (possibly) never seen.
Farewell, dear Dimi Today is the last time we will see Dimitar Berbatov in a Manchester United shirt, unless one of us pulls him and discovers he takes pyjama inspiration from David Mellor. I doubt it somehow; he surely prefers an off-white silken robe, scented, for his effortless seductions. Few footballers invite such thoughts of course, but then Berbarotica was always an essential part of watching Berbatov. His first touch is barely safe for work and makes grown men do the full Meg Ryan; he has been a walking, walking testament to the joys of futbol d'arte.
Who knew this story would have such a disappointing ending? The saddest thing of all is that Berbatov was born to play for Manchester United yet couldn't get a game for Manchester United. He is far from blameless, but ultimately he has lost his peak years after being bought by a manager who adored the idea of him, who promised him the earth – yet who had little idea how to actually use him. At first he didn't start the big games; then he stopped starting the small games; then he couldn't even get on the bench for the small games.
A class act to the last, he took his ostracism like Gary Cooper. We will never quite see the like again. In years to come, on some HBO show about the decline of football, the lead character will regularly ask his therapist: 'Whatever happened to Dimitar Berbatov: the strong, silent, erotic type?'
Here are five moments of Berbarotica from his time at United.
This is the team Sir Alex Ferguson should have picked today
Manchester United (1-1-1-1-0.5-0.5-1-1-1-1-1) Berbatov; Berbatov; Berbatov; Berbatov; Berbatov; Berba; tov; Berbatov; Berbatov; Berbatov; Berbatov; Berbatov.
1 min Sunderland kick off from left to right. They are in red-and-white stripes; United are black and blue.
2 min "I'm mad aren't I?" says Gerry Scott, jauntily grilling his toothpaste on the George Foreman. "I think QPR are going to get something at City and this poor, poor United team are going to win the league. I should say I don't want this but I can see it happening with absolute clarity."
3 min McClean brings a rudimentary save from De Gea with a soft, low 25-yarder.
4 min Nothing is happening on the field. Off it, the United end are in good voice. Their performance at the Etihad was almost as disgraceful as that of the players, mainly because an alarming number of tickets ended up in corporate hands. But there's no glory to hunt today, so most tickets are in the right hands.
7 min A lofted 25-yard shot from David Vaughan is comfortably saved by De Gea. It's all very quiet.
9 min A dangerous low cross from Valencia is only half cleared by the diving Mignolet. It comes to Bramble, who shanks his attempted clearance completely but gets away with it. I would love to know the logic for leaving Valencia out of that Man City game. It beggared belief, and won't stop beggaring it in a hurry.
10 min "Three things struck me watching the Man U Liverpool highlights from 1992," says Peter Crosby. "1. How unsophisticated the play seems in comparison to modern football (this season's often pub team defending aside); 2. How badly Mark Hughes played when faced with a do-or-die must win keep-Man-U-in-the-title-race game – perhaps a sign of how things might go today; 3. How huge Jan Molby really was."
Are you sure about Hughes? He was left out for some of them, and played really well in others, most notably Leeds away in 1993-94. He was excellent in most big cup games as well.
11 min City haven't scored yet, yet.
13 min United have started to take control of the match, with a couple of dangerous crosses from Ashley Young. Hard as it is, United must rouse themselves to win this game somehow. They would not be able to live with themselves if City somehow messed it up and United let them off the hook, like they did Blackburn in 1995.
14 min "I see that When Saturday Comes describe it as 'stylish and irresistible'," says Sean Boiling. "Is that you or the book? (I've always thought that about you myself of course, good to see the wider world coming round.)" I think we all know the answer to that.
16 min Any Sunderland fans reading – if there are any reading – what happened to them this last month? Are they just shattered? Apathetic?
17 min "Would love Berbatov to come on and score the goal that makes this the Premier League's most goal filled season," says Danny Marsh. "If this happens, how about a free copy of your book? I promise to buy it if it doesn't."
Deal. And if he scores the title-winning goal I'll be your family pet for the entirety of the 2012-13 seaosn.
18 min Phil Jones misses a great chance. A flat corner from the left by Young found him unmarked six yards out, with the keeper Mignolet in no-man's-land, but he didn't quite get over his header and it skimmed the top of the net.
19 min I thought City would be at least 2-0 up by now, in truth. They aren't. You can follow the match here with Jacob Steinberg.
GOAL! Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United (Rooney 20) Well, Manchester United are top of the table for the time being. A marvellous deep cross from Phil Jones, in a narrow, deep position on the right, finds Rooney unmarked beyond the far post, just a few yards out, and he heads it past Mignolet.
Could the miracle be on? Could Manchester United actually do this? Clue: no.
21 min "Aren't Sunderland just on their holidays?" says Gerry Scott. "After O'Neill came in they put together a run that took them out of trouble and guaranteed that they will offer something next season. The only game they can be criticised for losing is the replay against Everton."
I guess they are, and they earned the right with their amazing performances from December to March, but it's very unlike an O'Neill team.
23 min Campbell is booked for a bad sliding challenge on Evra. I think a yellow card is just about fair, although, as Alan Smith says on Sky, some players have been sent off for such challenges.
25 min It's all United at the moment. Giggs slams a free-kick into the wall from 25 yards.
26 min It's not the despair ...
27 min "Took it like Gary Cooper, eh?" says Phil Podolsky. "What other more or less culturally sanctioned models for enduring things wot suck are there, one wonders... I know I have only two ways to deal with hardship and heartache: like Robert Smith and like a catatonic hipster. No middle ground whatsoever, moi."
28 min There's not a lot to say about this game. United have had 68 per cent possession and are enjoying themselves against a team whose bodies are in Sunderland but whose minds are in California.
28 min Giggs almost makes it two with an outside-of-the-foot flick from 15 yards that is beaten away by the diving Mignolet. It was a fairly routine save, and perhaps unnecessarily flashy from Giggs.
30 min Rooney hits the bar with a lovely free kick, flipped gently over the wall from inside the D. Mignolet stood and watched as it clattered off the top of the bar.
31 min Here's a question for United fans: within the obvious constraints of Glazernomics, who do you want them to sign this summer? Hazard is surely unrealistic. Kagawa looks too good to miss, especially at that price. Javi Martinez is worth breaking the Glazer piggybank. Martinez and Kagawa would be a great summer's business, although you're probably talking at least £40m for the pair, so good luck with that.
32 min Phil Bardsley is booked for some unspecified deviancy. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand is limping. Is that news anymore?
33 min See 26 min.
34 min Anyone out there? I know you're all reading sexy young MBMer Jacob Steinberg, but throw me an email here, please.
34 min Wayne Rooney misses the grandmother of all sitters. The marvellous Valencia skinned O'Shea and pulled the ball back smartly to Young, in loads of space 15 yards out. He went for goal first-time but screwed his shot diagonally towards Rooney, who then screwed his sidefoot wide of the post from barely four yards.
36 min Now Fraizer Campbell misses a big chance! Garder squared the ball to Sessegnon on the edge of the box, and he dinked a delicious first-time pass over the flat-footed United defence. Gardner went for the return but Campbell got there before him and volleyed wide from 12 yards. He had time to pull that down.
37 min Phil Jones is booked for a shove on McClean.
38 min "I think we have suffered from not strengthening our injury prone defence and tackling midfielders, which in turn made Cleverley a bit redundant, so I'd want to strengthen there," says Nick Thompson. "Martinez would be my main choice."
I still prefer Martinez in midfield, but he looks a class act wherever he plays. It sounds like a daft thing to say of a footballer, but he looks like he really understands football, which is particularly striking for someone so young.
40 min City have finally taken the lead against QPR through Pablo Zabaleta. It was a pitiful mistake from the QPR keeper Paddy Kenny. So City go back to the top, and that should be the end of that.
41 min A disconsolate John O'Shea, knowing the game is up for United, limps off to be replaced by Ahmed Elmohamady. Craig Gardner moves to right back and Elmohamady will play wide right in a 4-4-2.
42 min "Sat in Newcastle University's Library with both game commentaries up on my screen instead of my work," says Natalie Jones. "Happily willing to sacrifice my exams if Manchester United win and Manchester City lose today."
Ah, I was rambling about those mental trade-offs we make the other day. What's the daftest trade you've ever made? I think I once decided I would fail my school exams if Hear The Drummer Get Wicked by Chad Jackson got to No1 in the hit parade.
44 min A superb inswinging cross from Young on the left corner of the box just evades Valencia at the far post.
45 min "I'm a South African, so forgive my slowness, but it seems to be that while Man City's new owners invested about a billion pounds, Man United have spent a billion to bring in the Glazers," says Jordan Pickering. "If so, why have supporters responded without setting considerable amounts of red Manchester on fire? I don't understand."
There are two basic reasons: 1) people are thick and 2) Sir Alex Ferguson says the Glazers rule OK, which brings us back to point 1. But 2) is the most important: had he not approved the Glazers back in 2005 they would not have taken over, never mind had seven years taking money out of the club with very little complaint.
45+2 min Evra goes on an impressive surge from the back and cuts the ball back crisply to Valencia, 15 yards from goal. He takes it first time but sidefoots straight at Mignolet. That was a pretty good chance.
Half time: Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United Blah blah etcetera. Proud performance, should be 3-0 up. Blah blah. Were top of the league from 20 minutes. Blah blah blah. See you in 10 minutes.
Half-time email "Hi Jacob," writes Shannon Campbell, "I was following the MBM from that Smyth bloke and he mentioned you were tippy tapping the tiki taka tales from Maine Road. What a breath of fresh air you are. Young, dynamic and full of verve like those Man City lads. Just a whisper between us, its about time some of the old guard got a hoot under their perch. Lets hope Man City can pull this off. Oh, a goal, Hurrah!!"
Half-time email II
"So United will almost certainly miss out on the title today by goal difference, having raked in a pretty big points total," says Simon Horwell. "This against a side that has spent nearly a billion pounds in the last six years. Yet it seems equally as likely that tomorrow's papers will be infested with "United in crisis" and "End of an empire" blogs; but is this United team really as bad as people make out? Clearly they need a couple of signings but if players like Welbeck, Cleverley, Jones, Smalling and De Gea keep improving at the rate they have, the surely there is the basis there for another great Ferguson side. Glazernomics aside, I just don't see the crisis."
I take your point, although I'm not sure I agree. One thing's for sure: if Phil Jones keeps improving at the rate he has since Christmas, he'll be struggling to get a game for Northwich Victoria reserves by 2013-14.
Half-time email III
"I'm sitting in Hobart Tasmania watching an Estonian film about the 1924 revolution while checking your match updates," says Evan Maloney. "Once all roads led to Rome, now all iPhones lead to MBM."
The last day of the season hasn't been the same sicne the advent of Technology a few years ago. No more duff information, fans with huge radios stuck to their ears and Steve Lomas keeping the ball by the corner flag.
Half-time email IV "Well, I don't really have a horse in this race," says Houman Sadri, "but if United win this I do think the rest of us should be allowed to point and laugh in your general direction." Why would it take a United win for that to be allowed?
46 min United kick off from left to right. Sky are still trying to hype the second half – you can understand why - but trust me, this title race is over. We're always honest to you at the Guardian. It's just how we roll.
47 min "Any thoughts on who will or will not be at Old Trafford next year?" says Jonathan Roscoe. "Rio must be kept together by duct tape. Park is down to 1.5 lungs and Berba is probably off to Germany to practice his own brand of making love to a football. Personally, I think the Da Silvas are a failed experiment. Rafael falls asleep at the most inopportune times & I don't think Fabio has been inside Old Trafford in months."
A fair few will go, although Fergie will keep the twins (Fabio will go out on loan). Six months ago I thought Ferdinand would leave but I suspect he might stay another year. Park's time is clearly up; Scholes could quit; and some fringe players like Macheda and Kuszczak will go. That aside, with the possible exception of Nani, I'd imagine they will keep everyone. I suspect Kagawa will join, plus Nathaniel Clyne. Beyond that, no idea. He might sign another defender. I don't think he'll sign a central midfielder.
47 min Mignolet charges from his line to make a good save from Rooney, who ran on to a deft through ball from Young and smacked it towards goal from 12 yards. It was too straight however and Mignol AND QPR HAVE SCORED!. Djibril Cisse has equalised at the Etihad after an abysmal error from Joleon Lescott, and United are back on top of the table. They are 42 minutes from a miracle. Can they do it? Could it happen? Clue: no.
50 min Phil Jones heads Ashley Young's inswinging free kick a few yards wide.
51 min See 26 min.
52 min See 51 min.
53 min Sunderland appeal for a penalty after a bit of a wrestle between Elmohamady and – yes – Ashley Young. We haven't seen a replay yet. My instinct is that it wasn't a penalty.
54 min This is Sunderland's best spell of the match, by a distance. Sessegnon wriggles smartly away from Ferdinand in the box before Evra blocks his shot.
55 min Oh dear. JOEY BARTON HAS BEEN SENT OFF at the Etihad after an off-the-ball incident with Carlos Tevez. And now he's kicked Sergio Aguero on the way off! You couldn't script this. Now he's going for another City player. Oh this is hilarious. It also, surely, means that City will go on to win the league.
57 min Sorry, I know I should be talking about this game but Joey Barton has just blown the Funk Scale to smithereens. He totally lost it! It was irresponsible, disgraceful, indefensible – and absolutely hilarious. You can read all about it on Jacob Steinberg's MBM. Poor old Twitter is going to get a serious workout tonight.
58 min Michael Carrick's shot hits his own player, Phil Jones, and deflects wide. Mignolet had it covered though.
59 min That was almost 2-0 for United. Valencia crossed to Young, six yards from goal, and his goalbound shot was deflected wide by a defender.
60 min "Though not a United fan, I would love to see Kagawa in the PL," says Will Pearson. "Every time I've seen him for Dortmund, he's been fantastic." He cost them only £300,000 two years ago as well.
62 min Sunderland make their second substitution, bringing on former footballer Wayne Bridge to replace Phil Bardsley.
64 min Well, we didn't think the excitement would last this long. United are 26 minutes from winning the title. Could it happen? Can they do it? Clue: no.
66 min QPR LEAD 2-1! Jamie Mackie has scored on the break for 10-man QPR. This is staggering. City have 25 minutes to score two goals.
67 min Does anyone know if they serve whisky in the Guardian canteen? Scholes has been fouled this far outside the Sunderland box. It looks like Rooney will take it...
68 min In fact it's Giggs, and it hits the wall. Valencia's follow up is deflected wide for a corner. United really need a second goal; if failing to win here costs them the title – as it did at Upton Park in 1995 – they will never forgive themselves.
69 min See 52 min.
70 min This game is almost irrelevant, it's ridiculous. All anyone wants to know is what's going on at the Etihad. I don't think QPR have crossed the halfway line since the goal.
71 min On a day of shocking developments, here is the biggest shock of all: Paul Scholes has been booked for a late tackle.
73 min McClean looks much livelier now, and Sunderland are pressing with newfound purpose. They should have got David Lynch to referee this, because it's one of the eeriest games I've seen, in that it matters so much and yet not at all. Most eyes (or rather ears) are elsewhere.
74 min See 69 min.
75 min Sunderland make their final substitution, replacing a midfielder (David Vaughan) with a striker (Conor Wickham).
76 min Joe Hart to score the title-winning goal? You heard it here last. Or maybe Mario Balotelli, who has just come on for Carlos Tevez.
77 min Scholes and then Giggs almost make it 2-0! First Scholes rifled an excellent bobbling volley onto the post from 20 yards; then Mignolet leapt high to his left to tip over Giggs's lashed follow-up from 18 yards. That was a brilliant save because he had plunged in the other direction in an attempt to save Scholes's shot.
78 min Ashley Young is down. Insert your own joke here. He looks in a fair bit of pain actually, as if he might have strained or pulled something. It was the consequence of a vigorous challenge from the side by Gardner. Nani is getting ready to replace him.
80 min "I just caught your plea for emails," says Peter Robertson. "So what's Jacob really like?" Awful git.
81 min Nani does replace Ashley Young, who ends a mixed first season at Old Trafford. United look reasonably comfortable – but if 4-2 can be a dangerous scoreline in a title race, then 1-0 certainly can.
83 min A sharp burst from United ends with an excellent challenge in the area by Elmohamady on Nani.
84 min United are passing the ball around pretty comfortably just now, with Scholes to the fore of course. But if City and Sunderland equalise, City will be champions. This is utterly bewildering. If United do win this, the phrase 'Football? Bloody hell' will be hopelessly inadequate. In fact, whatever happens in the next 15 minutes, the phrase 'Football? Bloody hell' will be hopelessly inadequate.
85 min I wonder what Ludek Miklosko and Andy Cole are doing right now.
86 min Scholes is dictating the tempo of these last ten minutes, playing little balls around the corner and then offering himself for the return.
87 min Valencia roasts Wickham down the right and wins a free kick just outside the area. Giggs whips a cross shot towards the far post that is punched away by the diving Mignolet.
89 min United win a free-kick 20 yards from goal, just to the right of centre. Rooney steps up – and curves it off the outside of the post! That's the third time United have hit the woodwork today.
90+1 min There will be three minutes of added time here – and five minutes at the Etihad. Paddy Kenny has just made a vital close-range save from Balotelli.
CITY HAVE SCORED THROUGH DZEKO! It's 2-2 after 91 minutes 23 seconds. United know about scoring twice in injury time to win a major trophy. City might be about to do the same. There isn't a dry nail in the house.
Full time: Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United United have done their job. You can follow the City game here. There are two minutes to go.
SERGIO AGUERO HAS WON THE TITLE FOR MANCHESTER CITY Astonishing. City have scored two goals in added time, and a staggeringly cool solo goal for Sergio Aguero has given them their first title since 1968. How do you keep your cool in a moment like that? It was a wonderful finish.
Full time: Manchester City 3-2 QPR; Sunderland 0-1 Manchester City There are no words for this, but I'm paid to type words so I'd better bloody type some, eh. Manchester United know the once-in-a-lifetime joy of winning a trophy with two goals in injury time, and now they know the once-in-a-lifetime pain of losing a major trophy that way. They know exactly how Bayern Munich felt 13 years ago. This is how Bayern Munich felt. This is how United feel now. Manchester City are champions of England, and nobody will ever win a league title more dramatically than this. The name of Michael Thomas will forever accompanied by the name of Sergio Aguero; the two men who win the title just as the engravers were getting to work.
Look, there are Pulitzer-winners who could not do justice to what just happened. I'm not even sure Tim Lovejoy could do justice to what just happened. So there's no point me trying. Congratulations to Manchester City and commiserations to Manchester United. Jacob Steinberg is still typing away on his City v QPR MBM, so you might as well head that way. Thanks for your emails. Just remember: it's not the despair ...