The dust has settled on another Barclays Premier League season and what a season it was!The twentieth anniversary of the Premier League produced more goals than ever before and is widely regarded as being the best season in the history of the competition so far. As we entered last Sunday’s final round of matches, almost everything was still to play for; the title, the European places and the final relegation spot were all up for grabs, this is how it turned out.
Manchester City and Manchester United were locked together at the top of the table, only separated by goal difference, however, the difference was such that any victory for City would more or less have guaranteed them their first ever Premier League title. Bolton Wanderers faced a must win match against Stoke to have any chance of staying up and they had to hope that Q.P.R. didn’t pick up an unlikely point away at the Etihad. As for third and fourth place, any two from Arsenal, Spurs or Newcastle could have filled the final two Champions’ League spots.
At the Etihad a truly amazing match was to unfold. City began in dominant fashion, keeping possession, passing with speed and accuracy and putting Queens Park Rangers under immense early pressure. However, the breakthrough was proving illusive and with Manchester United taking an early lead in their match at the Stadium of light through Wayne Rooney, tension in the crowd began to transmit itself onto the pitch.
Yaya Toure pulled up lame midway through the first-half but battled on, almost as a passenger, for as long as he could, desperate to play a part in City’s would be triumph. And play a part he did as, in the 39th minute, he provided the assist for Zabaleta’s to open the scoring. The full back’s, powerful effort was too strong for Paddy Kenny, whose parry wasn’t enough to prevent the ball from dropping in. Toure’s game was over and he was replaced by De Jong.
The goal eased some of the tension around the stadium and it looked for all the world as if that would be enough to break Q.P.R.s resolve, given that the visitors had offered no attacking threat whatsoever in the first period. However, just minutes into the second-half, a terrible misjudgement from Joleon Lescott set free Djibril Cisse and the enigmatic Frenchman thumped the ball emphatically past Hart to level the score. The Rangers fans went wild, not least because Bolton were indeed beating Stoke in their match and a point at the Etihad would have proved vital for their team’s survival.
Ten minutes into the second half real drama unfolded with the star attraction being Joey Barton. The Rangers captain caught a flailing arm in the face from Carlos Tevez; seeking revenge, Barton tried a swift elbow into the chin of the Argentine on the blind side of the linesman. Unfortunately for Barton, Tevez hit the deck and the eagle-eyed assistant had seen his efforts at revenge, whilst missing the original incident, no doubt because Barton had stayed on his feet.
After consultation, the referee produced a red for the Rangers man who then took exception to Aguero, kicking the striker in the leg. Kompany got involved and Barton squared upto him, the pair touching heads (I refuse to call it a headbutt, because it simply wasn’t), before words were exchanged with Balotelli. Barton faces the possibility of a 10 game ban from the F.A. .
Remarkably, the ten men took the lead on 66 minutes. Armand Traore, on as a sub in the wake of Barton’s dismissal, got away from Kompany down the left side and provided an inch perfect cross for, the arriving, Jamie Mackie to finish with an accomplished diving header. City pressed and pressed, Dzeko was brought on, Balotelli came on for Tevez, each had good efforts saved by Kenny but, entering injury time, Mark Hughes team still held the lead and Manchester United were poised to be crowned Champions again.
Stoke had equalised in their game against Bolton, Rangers were looking safe no matter what happened. What part this news might have played in what happened next is unclear and, in actual fact, immaterial. Relentless pressure brought City yet another corner, this time Dzeko made it count, getting away from his marker, the Bosnian rose to punch his header past Kenny. 2-2 still wasn’t good enough for City and their fans were poised for yet more heartbreak at the hands of their neighbours as, with the full-time whistle having been Blown in Sunderland, United were in pole position.
This Fergie fable would have a moral though and that would be; don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched! Deep into stoppage time, Mario Balotelli received the ball in the box. Falling to the floor, the Italian managed to prod it round the corner to Aguero, whose touch took him away from Onouha and whose finish provided a fitting end to this fairytale season, sending the Blue half of Manchester and just about every neutral fan into ecstacy.
A quite unbelievable turnaround and more drama than you could shake a stick at. Delight at the final whistle for both City and Rangers fans, as Bolton’s 2-2 draw with Stoke saw them relegated to the benefit of Mark Hughes’s side. The scorers in that game: Walters put Stoke one up with a goal that was hotly contested, Mark Davies and Kevin Davies had turned the game back in Bolton’s favour before half-time, both with fortuitous finishes, before Walters spot-kick levelled things up ten minutes from time.
Heartbreak then for Bolton and Owen Coyle, elation for Hughes and Q.P.R., with Manchester United left to rue what might have been after surrendering an 8 point lead at the top of the table with just a handful of games remaining. Their 0-1 victory over Sunderland, ultimately, proved to be worthless and, perhaps, the game that they will look back on with the most regret will be the 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford a few weeks ago, when they were 3-1 and 4-2 ahead in the second-half before surrendering their advantage.
No more than City deserved after, undoubtedly, playing the better football over the course of the season and, quite frankly, no less than Bolton deserved after a poor season, which had seen them in the bottom three for the lion’s share.
Elsewhere, Arsenal secured third place and confirmed Champions’ League football for next season thanks to a thoroughly inept goalkeeping display by West Bromwich Albion’s second choice, Martin Fulop. Fulop misjudged the pace of the ball to allow Yossi Benayoun in to score the Gunners’ first goal after just two minutes, the midfielder nicking the ball off him to run it into an empty net.
Another awful piece of officiating, in a season littered with unfathomable errors, allowed Albion to equalise shortly afterwards. Shane Long was two to three yards offside when James Morrison released his pass, but the flag never came and the Irishman tucked it home. Albion went in front on 15 minutes, Dorrans taking the ball away from Koscielny and slamming it past Szczesny (try saying that one quickly).
Mulumbu and Fulop combined to gift Arsenal their equaliser, the former’s extra touch allowed Santos to dispossess him, while the latter allowed the Brazilian’s effort to slip through his hands and into the back of the net on the half-hour. Ten minutes into the second-half, the Gunners had their winner. Fulop’s attempted punched clearance, from a van Persie corner, sent the ball backwards in the direction of his own goal and Laurent Koscielny was there to gobble up the chance from close range.
2-3 the final score at the Hawthorns for Roy Hodgson’s last match and the Albion fans gave him a fitting send off. Why not? He has done a good job in the Midlands, let’s see how he fares in his next position, where the pressure really will be on.
Tottenham secured fourth spot with a comfortable 2-0 home victory over Fulham. Adebayor opened the scoring with a classy finish inside two minutes and, from then on, the result was never really in doubt. Fulham came close through Riise and Dembele, the latter striking a post in the second-half, however, Jermain Defoe wrapped up the points for the home side with 63 minutes played.
Normally Spurs would be celebrating Champions’ League qualification with fourth place in the bag but this year they’ll have to sweat a liitle longer as a Chelsea win, however unlikely, in this year’s final on Saturday night in Munich, would see the North London club miss out.
Newcastle finished off their fantastic season under Alan Pardew in disappointing fashion, going down 3-1 to an Everton side who have finished above, Merseyside rivals, Liverpool in the Premier League for only the second time in twenty seasons. The Toffees, who finished the season on the back of nine games undefeated in the league made short work of a tired looking Newcastle side.
Stephen Pienaar opened the scoring on 16 minutes with a deflected effort from twenty yards. Nikica Jelavic made it 2-0 ten minutes later, finishing at the second time of asking following a brilliant save by Tim Krul. Jonny Heitinga’s header on 63 minutes made the game safe for the Blues, whose second half of the season has been nothing short of fantastic.
A Tony Hibbert o.g. fifteen minutes from time provided scant consolation for the Magpies whose gravity defying season has tailed off in the last few weeks. They can still be proud of their exploits, they were favourites for the drop and to qualify for the Europa League is no mean achievement. Alan Pardew has been named as Manager of the Season, for the job that he has done in the Toon, added to which, they have unearthed some real gems in Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Ba and Cisse. If they can hold on to them, Geordie fans will more than optimistic about the future.
Everton had Tim Cahill sent off for raising his hands against Yohan Cabaye after the final whistle, a decision which has been appealed. One big question remains unanswered though, namely: will the board stump up for Stephen Pienaar? The player has been on loan at Goodison since January and, along with Jelavic, has made a pronounced difference to the side, once again becoming an integral cog in the Blue machine but, with Everton’s well known financial difficulties, finding the cash to keep him may prove difficult.
A question mark still remains, nominally at least, over David Moyes’s future, however, it seems as if the Scot will remain at the club for one more year at least. Should these issues be ironed out in favourable fashion, Toffees fans will be thinking sweet thoughts going into to next season.
The two clubs already relegated going into Sunday’s fixtures, Blackburn and Wolves, were beaten again. Wigan came from behind to beat Wolves 3-2 at the DW. Matt Jarvis gave the visitors the lead after just nine minutes, however, the advantage was short-lived, Franco di Santo (12) and Emerson Boyce(15) giving the Latics a 2-1 half-time lead. Boyce notched his second of the game with a well executed volley (79), before Fletcher nabbed a final consolation for Wolves a couple of minutes before the end.
Chelsea beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Stamford Bridge but it wasn’t enough to save them from their worst ever Premier League finish in the Abramovic era. Chelsea finished the season sixth, after goals from John Terry (31) and Raul Meireles (34), Yakubu with the response for Rovers (60). The Blues have the chance to be playing Champions’ League football next season but only if they can pull off the unlikely feat of beating Bayern Munich in Munich this coming Saturday.
As for Blackburn their season of struggle ultimately proved fruitless, what comes next for the club, apart from the Championship, is anybody’s guess. Steve Kean has left for India to hold talks with the owners about the future of the club, with no-one the wiser as to what that might entail.
Swansea finished the highest of the newly promoted clubs, narrowly pipping Norwich, the two clubs finishing 11th and 12th respectively. The Swans have had an excellent season under Brendan Rodgers and have earned plaudits for their attractive passing game. A late goal from Danny Graham (86) was enough to see off Liverpool, who equalled their all-time worst Premier League finish, coming home in 8th spot.
Michel Vorm was once again in fine form between the posts for Swansea, keeping out Andy Carroll, amongst others, on numerous occasions. Liverpool have had a frustrating season, particularly in front of goal, and have often been unable to convert dominance into points. Manager Kenny Dalglish has flown to Boston for meetings with the owners over the clubs future. A trend that is becoming all to common in the Barclays Premier League.
Norwich have also had a great season after being promoted at the end of the last campaign. A final day home victory over an Aston Villa side that were lucky to stay up in the end, put the icing on the cake of what has been a very impressive all round contribution from the Canaries. Grant Holt got them off to a flier, bagging his 15th league goal of the season after just eight minutes, before Simeon Jackson doubled their advantage (21).
Villa have had an atrocious seaon, precious few wins, lacklustre performances, defensive tactics and a dearth of goals have all contributed to a 16th place finish, seven places lower than last term. Many raised eyebrows, not least the fans, over Alex McCleish’s appointment as manager and the Scot, in all honesty, had a bit of a nightmare during his season-long tenure. Following the final day defeat, McCleish has been relieved of his duties, with Roberto Martinez and Alan Curbishley touted as possible successors.
So there it was, the 2011/12 Barclays Premier League season. Hailed as the best season ever, certainly in living memory. The competition has produced unparalleled excitement, unimaginable results, more goals than ever before and has kept worldwide audiences on the edge of their seats from the first right up until the very last minute.
The big winners this season are: Manchester City; obviously, Arsenal; for regaining their composure and position after an awful start, Newcastle; for maintaining their push for Europe all year, Wigan; for finishing the season like a steam train and leaving relegation woes behind, Swansea and Norwich; for sticking to their principles and not being overawed. Congratulations to all of the above and roll on next season!
Trophy Image by Ade Oishineye. Wenger Image by Ronnie McDonald. Aguero Image by