Barclay's English Premier League has come to its end for the season.
Although it was the last match day for the season, there was no shortage of excitement as we were drawn attention to both ends of the table. At the top, Manchester United and Chelsea were in the spotlight for the title showdown. Chelsea were still in the title race, having drawn level on the points in the standings, only inferior by goal difference. Any slip up at JJB Stadium by Manchester United would mean Chelsea's celebration, if they can pull away all three points from their match against Bolton.
At the other end of the table, three teams were in fight for the sole survival spot from next season's elite status. Birmingham, Fulham and Reading were all involved in last-day relegation battle, as only one of them will stay up. Fulham will need to win the last game to secure their own survival. On paper, Fulham may have the toughest assignment, as they took on Portsmouth, whom themselves have had a remarkable season. The Pompey are in FA Cup final, which is to be played on 17 May, against lower division team - Cardiff. A win in FA Cup will seal a European football next season in UEFA Cup.
Reading has the easiest among the three as they play against the already relegated Derby. Birmingham's task wasn't any easier, as they face Mark Hughes' Blackburn, who were in contention for European football earlier this season.
At the end of 90 minutes last night, there were a bit of twist, which came from the bottom of the table.
Fulham, under Roy Hodgson's management, has survived the relegation threat with their 1 - 0 win against Portsmouth, thanks to Danny Murphy's goal. That result have consigned Birmingham and Reading to relegation, despite their big wins on the final day. Birmingham surprised Blackburn with a 4 - 1 victory at St. Andrew's, while Reading thumped Derby 4 goals away.
Jimmy Bullard was influential in their recent run, which eventually stirred the team to their survival. Since his return to lineup, he has proved his presence in the team worthy. Too often he was involved in important plays in a game, and he could easily be best player on the pitch in those games. Reading's drubbing of Derby consigned the latter to the worst team ever in the top flight history, it's like adding salt to the wound to Derby.
Back to the top of the table, there were two scenarios before the match:
A) Manchester United beat Wigan, Manchester United will be champion regardless the outcome at Stamford Bridge.
B) Manchester United slip up against Wigan, a defeat or a draw, plus a Chelsea victory at Stamford Bridge will bring trophy to Chelsea's dressing room instead.
Scenario B was never going to happen, as Cristiano Ronaldo fired a penalty past Chris Kirkland in the 33rd minute, after Boyce clipped Wayne Rooney in the penalty box. Chelsea was momentarily given some hope, after Andriy Shevchenko scored in the 62nd minute. But all hopes were put beyond doubt when Ryan Giggs were put through, clearly on side, by Wayne Rooney. The Red Devil's loyal old horse made no mistake in putting the ball through to the goal, it was the 80th minute, 2 - 0 was the scoreline.
Signs of joy was more visible on Sir Alex's face at this point, he knows this better than anyone, and he wanted this so much before his eventual retirement.
And all was done and dusted for Manchester United when Matthew Taylor scored an equalizer for Bolton on the dying minutes of the match. 1 - 1. All the blues faithful could only stare at their team with agony, and applauding what the team has achieved so far, all done after the departure of their "Special One" -- Jose Mourinho. Avram Grant had since guided to a second place finish in the league, and finalist in UEFA Champions League, where they will play against the English Champion - Manchester United.
John Terry was stretchered off from the match, just after 13 minutes, after having a partial dislocation in his elbow. He is doubtful for the season finale against Manchester United in Moscow, at 21 May 2008. Didier Drogba is also believed to have played his last match at Stamford Bridge, as he is linked up with a transfer to Italian giant AC Milan next season.
On other matches, former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson may be doomed for the exit door in Manchester City, after his team was demolished on the final day with a 8 - 1 loss against Gareth Southgate's Boro. His captain, Richard Dunne was sent off after just 15 minutes, and there onwards, the floodgate just opened. Stuart Downing scored a brace, and Brazilian hitman Afonso Alves continued his fine form with a hat-trick, Rochemback, Aliadiere and Adam Johnson completed the rout for the Riverside team. Elano pulled a mere consolation for City in the 87th minute.
So, after the final match day, here are how the English Premier League has concluded:
Champions: Manchester United
UEFA Champions League (Automatic Qualifying): Manchester United, Chelsea
UEFA Champions League (3rd Qualifying Round): Arsenal, Liverpool
UEFA Cup: Everton, FA Cup Winner, Tottenham (via Carling Cup)
Relegated: Reading, Birmingham, Derby
Note: Manchester City may be offered a lifeline in European football next season, as they were finished fifth in England's fair play standing. The top four teams have already qualified for European next season, so Manchester City will be next in line for consideration.
Aston Villa and Blackburn may try to squeeze to Europe via Intertoto Cup, this is still not confirmed at time of writing.
It's been a terrific season to watch in Barclay's Premier League, next season starts in August 2008.
Pictures credit: All photos posted here are referred from ESPN's Soccernet.com.