|London (CNN) — Manchester City won their first league title in 44 years to deny rivals Manchester United a 20th league championship in a gripping conclusion to the English Premier League season.
Defending champions United, who secured a 1-0 away win at Sunderland thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal, had looked on course to win the title before City scored two remarkable stoppage-time goals to fashion an improbable 3-2 home victory against Queens Park Rangers.
City had led the table on goal difference at the start of Sunday and Pablo Zabaleta’s first-half goal suggested Roberto Mancini’s side would comfortably win their first title since 1968.
But a mistake by Joleon Lescott allowed Djibril Cisse to level and following a red card for QPR midfielder Joey Barton, Jamie Mackie popped up to head in the visitors’ second goal to give United fans hope that their team might yet snatch the title from their city rivals.
City bombarded the QPR penalty area and in stoppage time Edin Dzeko headed home to give their fans hope, before Sergio Aguero scored a stunning individual winner in a finale that no script writer would have dared pen.
It was a goal that ensured City won the title on goal difference in the Premier League’s 20th season, arguably the most dramatic finish in its history given it was decided in the last three minutes.
“To win it like this is incredible,” Mancini, who at times during the second half gave the impression he could barely believe his side appeared to be doing all they could to throw away the title, told Sky Sports. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a finale like this.
“We didn’t deserve to lose, we had a lot of chances and we deserved to win the game and championship.
“It’s fantastic for the club and the supporters after 44 years. It’s been a crazy season and a crazy last minute.”
In 1999 United won the Champions League final with two stoppage-time goals against Bayern Munich in Barcelona and Sunday’s epic events bore parallel, though this time the Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson had to suffer as victory was snatched away from him in those heart-palpitating final moments.
“I would like to say on behalf of Manchester United congratulations to our neighbours,” said Ferguson. “It’s a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League. It’s the hardest league in the world and anyone who wins it deserves it.”
The rollercoaster game at the Eithad Stadium that wrung every ounce of emotion out of both City and QPR fans had consequences at the other end of the table given a Rangers defeat would have condemned them to relegation if Bolton Wanderers had beaten Stoke City away – and at one stage Owen Coyle’s side led 2-1 at the Britannia Stadium.
But a 77th-minute Jonathan Walters goal earned Stoke a 2-2 draw to relegate Bolton to the Championship and allow QPR – managed by former Manchester City manager Mark Hughes – to stay up in the Premier League.
Arsenal finished third after a 3-2 win at West Brom to secure their Champions League place, while north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur beat Fulham 2-0 to take fourth.
Spurs will join Arsenal in the Champions League only if Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich in the European Cup final on May 19.
Newcastle’s hopes of a Champions League place evaporated after a 3-1 defeat at Everton, though Alan Pardew’s team have the consolation of a Europa League place.
It is estimated that Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour from the ruling family of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates has invested close to $1.6 billion in securing this Premier League title.
The title gives City’s owners huge kudos, though not necessarily immediate financial benefits.
“It should be remembered that there is a price of success, namely bonus payments to players and managers,” financial blogger Kieron O’Connor, who writes the Swiss Ramble blog, told CNN.
“In fact, it is entirely possible that the net financial result might be negative for a direct comparison between finishing first or second, though it might be different if the comparison is against coming, say, sixth the previous season.”
It is a title that City probably should have wrapped up a long time ago.
At one stage in December after their barnstorming start to the season — notably a 6-1 win over the defending champions at Old Trafford – City were eight points of United after beating Norwich 5-1.
However, a combination of Carlos Tevez going AWOL after falling out with Mancini, Yaya Toure’s absence as he played for the Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, David Silva’s dip in form and Mario Balotelli’s ill-disciplined antics allowed the defending champions to claw back that deficit and go eight points clear.
But a disastrous April for United – including a 1-0 defeat by City at the Eithad Stadium – enabled Mancini’s team to move top on goal difference going into the final round of matches.
Sunday’s games were broadcast to 211 countries around the world – testament to the Premier League’s global appeal.
The remarkable end to the season could not have come at a better time for the leagee given it has recently announced the new tender for its next three-year broadcasting rights starting from the 2013/14 season.
“Games going down to the last game of the season will certainly increase interest and may in turn show the league as more valuable because of the unresolved title, Champions League and relegation issues,” said lawyer Daniel Geey of Field Fisher Waterhouse.
Sunday’s 10 games also ensured this was the most prolific Premier League season ever with 1,066 goals, beating last season’s record total of 1,063.