Throughout June on Typical City, we’re looking at some of the best matches Manchester City have played in the Sheikh Mansour-era. Day by day, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to some of the classic encounters the Blues have had since the 2008 takeover – you can view the rest of the featured games on the Best of the Mansour Era page.
For the final match in our Best of the Mansour Era series, there’s only one afternoon we could possibly pick. When City fans arrived at the Etihad for their side’s game with QPR on the final day of the 2011-12 campaign, they must have thought the Blues were about to stroll to their first Premier League title. How wrong they were – nobody could have predicted what would happen next, though nobody would change it for the world…
Manchester City 3-2 Queens Park Rangers
Sunday 13 May 2012
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Barry (Dzeko 69), Y Toure (De Jong 44), Silva, Nasri, Aguero, Tevez (Balotelli 75).
Unused: Pantilimon, Richards, Kolarov, Milner
Goals: Zabaleta (39), Dzeko (90+2), Aguero (90+4)
It should have been easy. Manchester City fans, waking up on Sunday 13 May 2012, were ecstatic. That was they day they were going to win their first Premier League title – and there was barely anything that could go wrong, even for the club with best-known history of cock-ups and catastrophes. This was a new City and they were finally going to get their hands on the top flight title for the first time in 44 years. This was something thousands had thought they’d never get the chance to see.
All they had to do was beat relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad. City had won 17 and drawn one of their 18 matches at home that season so far, with only Sunderland taking a point away from Manchester. They’d scored more goals than anyone else. They had the best defence. How could a team, still needing a point to be sure of survival, even stand a chance?
Of course, City would spend a large part of the 90 minutes that afternoon punishing their fans for even beginning to think that they might win the title comfortably. It would turn out to be anything but a simple task.
To set the scene, City had to match rivals Manchester United’s result. The Reds were away at Sunderland and second in the table on goal difference. If the Reds lost, City would be champions come what may. If they won, City needed to win, too.
It was a nervy start to the game, as could have been expected. QPR had few intentions of leaving their own half, while City were looking a little sluggish, finding it difficult to create chances against a stubborn side. Carlos Tevez snatched at a shot when he could have squared for David Silva, while Djibril Cisse found Joe Hart’s gloves with a free kick at the other end.
The news filtered through that United had scored at the Stadium of Light. Their 1-0 lead, combined with City’s 0-0 score, meant that – as it stood – it would be the Reds that lifted the Premier League title. That seemed to ramp up the pressure some more, but there was a huge release of tension when Pablo Zabaleta netting for the first time that season. He was played through by Yaya Toure and his shot stung the palms of Paddy Kenny, who could only direct the ball up into the air and into the net via the post.
But the picture changed after half time. An error from Joleon Lescott, getting caught underneath the ball, meant it dropped kindly for Cisse. One-on-one with Hart, the striker smashed it into the bottom corner and levelled the score. Out of nowhere, the Blues were back down to second place in the table and they had to do all the hard work again.
At 1-1, though, a former City player gave the hosts a lifeline. Joey Barton, whose stock had well and truly fallen at the Etihad in the years since his departure, swung an elbow at Tevez – after the Argentinian striker had had a little nibble at the Rangers midfielder when trying to run into the box. The assistant spotted it and flagged, leaving Mike Dean no option but to show a red card. Barton went ballistic, kicking out at Sergio Aguero and aiming a headbutt at Vincent Kompany on his way off the pitch – later saying he was trying to take a City player with him.
But despite needing a goal against ten men, City put their fans through the ringer even more. With 25 minutes to play, Jamie Mackie headed in on the break to put QPR 2-1 ahead. The mood went from electric to deflated in the space of 21 second-half minutes. United, meanwhile, still led 1-0 and were seemingly heading for the title. It was all going wrong.
City were still having to work for their chances. QPR, a man down and a goal up, were defending even more stubbornly than they had before – and the packed box was difficult for the Blues to break through. Edin Dzeko had an effort blocked behind, before Mario Balotelli’s header from very close range was palmed away by Kenny.
The clock had ticked beyond 90 minutes and City still needed two goals. It was looking like they were going to fall at the final hurdle and the fans would need some very good hiding places for the summer – with United snatching the title from them at the death, it would be a very tough period to be a City supporter. Excuses were being made already. Some chose to leave the ground. Others slumped in their seats. It was a living nightmare.
In the second of the added minutes, though, there was a lifeline. Dzeko rose highest to meet a Silva corner from the right flank. The Bosnian’s header beat Kenny and hit the back of the net, leaving the Blues three minutes to find a winner if they were going to claim the title.
Or perhaps Sunderland could shock United at the Stadium of Light with an equaliser there? No such luck – as Dzeko’s header found the net, the full time whistle went in the north-east. United’s game ended with them as champions, and only a City goal in the final seconds at the Etihad could change that now.
QPR, knowing a point would keep them up, took the kick off and chipped the ball out for a throw-in by City’s corner flag. They had no intention of risking relegation by opening up, setting about getting into their defensive shape again.
As a City attack broke down, it was Samir Nasri who bore the brunt of the fans’ anger. He left a ball to go out for a throw-in, thinking it would be a City ball – but it wasn’t. It had taken a flick off Nigel De Jong, who’d replaced the injured Toure in the first half. Ex-City defender Nedum Onuoha took the throw in, where it was picked up by the City defence – it began a move that the home fans can still see clearly to this day.
De Jong carried it forward. He found Aguero on the edge of the box. After a spin to face goal, Aguero played it into the feet of Balotelli. As the Italian fell to the ground, he was able to poke it back into the Argentinian’s path. After a touch to steady himself, he hit it as hard as he could, smashing a shot past Kenny and giving the Blues the lead and restoring their position at the top of the table. There were just 100 seconds of the season remaining.
It took two goals in added time for the home side to claim the victory that many had expected would be one of the easiest of the season. But because of that finish, it’s a day that will long be remembered by both City fans and the wider watching world. It will remain extra special because of who the eventual runners-up were – and it meant that, in one kick of a football, City’s fans went from despair to delight.
Manager Roberto Mancini said afterwards that he couldn’t believe what had happened: “I think it is a crazy finish for a crazy season. I have never seen a final like this. The best team won the title. The team that played the best football, the team that scored the most goals, the team that conceded the least goals, the team that beat United twice… When you beat them twice and score more and concede less goals than them, you deserve to win.
“Going into injury time it was terrible, but it was incredible because we deserved to score two or three goals. Instead, we didn’t score, but in the end the result was right because we deserved to win this game. And, in general, we deserved to win the title. In the history of the club, a final like this does not exist. I am very proud for my players because I think they wanted to win this title. They worked hard for this and they wanted to win the title until the very last second. We changed the history of this club – and we should be proud.”
Written by David Mooney
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