QUEENS Park Rangers saw their Premier League status retained despite a stunning last gasp winner from Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero.
Pablo Zabaleta’s first half strike slipped through the fingers of Paddy Kenny to send the hosts into a first half lead, before unbelievable scenes took hold at the Etihad.
Djibril Cissé netted a powerful shot with Rangers’ first effort of the half before Joey Barton threatened to cost Rangers’ safety by lashing out in ridiculous fashion to see red.
Substitute Armand Traoré sent in a pin-point cross for Jamie Mackie to send the visiting fans into delirium – a frankly farcical score line for the visiting side.
One eye was on the Britannia Stadium as Stoke City had netted a late leveller from the penalty spot while forlorn scenes from the home support at the Etihad with Manchester United winning at Sunderland.
Step forward the City forwards – Edin Dzeko came from the bench to nod home to a tepid celebration before deep into injury time Sergio Aguero found a yard to slam home the winner.
Scenes of jubilation in both home and away ends when the final whistle was blown and embraces and handshakes up and down the roads as respective ambitions has been achieved in the Manchester sunshine.
Mark Hughes made two interesting changes ahead of the clash with Shaun Wright-Phillips and Djibril Cissé recalled at the expense of Adel Taarabt and Ákos Buzsáky. Ex City players Nedum Onouha and Joey Barton also started while Samba Diakité missed out.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Taye Taiwo. A four across midfield consisted of Jamie Mackie, Barton, Shaun Derry and Wright-Phillips with Cissé partnering Bobby Zamora in attack.
City named an unchanged side for the fourth fixture in succession with Mario Balotelli joining the bench. Joe Hart started behind a defensive unit of Pablo Zabaleta, Joleon Lescott, skipper Vincent Kompany and Gael Clichy.
Samir Nasri, Yaya Touré, Gareth Barry and David Silva comprised the midfield with Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero starting in attack – A man who likes to tinker, Mancini kept the faith in the hope of another in many home victories.
KICK OFF: MANCHESTER CITY v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
It seemed that Queens Park Rangers were only there to make up the numbers on Manchester City’s big day, judging by the match previews and media scriptwriting. Mark Hughes and QPR had their own story to write at the Etihad Stadium if they had their way.
A 4-4-2 formation for the visitors rather set out Rangers’ ambition for the day – far more enterprising than the debacle at Chelsea. City meanwhile would look to take the bull by the horns in the early offing as they fought for their first Premier League title.
Rather predictably it was the home side that dictated the flow of the fixture – spreading the play and using the space of the sizeable pitch at the Etihad to try and scythe a hole in the stout and resolute rearguard in Queens Park Rangers.
At times it was eleven defenders as the home side probed with little reward in face of a more inspired defensive line-up. Without Samba Diakité but maintaining his spirit and endeavour to keep City at bay.
Such was the testament to Rangers’ fight they restricted the hosts and Yaya Touré pot shot was the only chance of note in the early exchange. Samir Nasri was next to try his luck from distance only to fire his errant effort wide of the upright.
Rangers were making the most of every break in play – much to the frustration of the home support. But their chagrin was only met by the palpable relief in the away end as the barrage was broken for a mere matter of seconds.
Barton was the only returning player to get heckled, none more so than when he stayed down after a heavy blow to the back of the head. Zabaleta’s half volley missed the upright while QPR fashioned their first chance midway through the half.
Cissé was brought down on the edge of the area and he stepped over the resultant set piece with Taye Taiwo. The Frenchman received the ball from the left back to fire a low drive into the midriff of an underworked Joe Hart.
Cissé then worked some space down the right flank before his wild cross evaded strike partner Zamora. Zamora himself was providing little in the way of relief, featuring more in Rangers half than being able to hold the ball in attack.
Wright-Phillips then attempted valiantly to block an effort but inadvertently handled the ball. David Silva’s resultant effort cannoned into the wall and away to safety – Rangers clinching to parity with their fingertips as the half wore on.
City were still looking for neat, intricate football to cut open a stubborn rearguard. But Rangers were having little of it with Tevez, Silva and Nasri being bullied out of the area by a resolute defensive unit – over-worked but full of spirit.
Kenny was still nursing a bad finger, saving a stinging low drive early on, and that may have been a contributing factor to City taking what was presumed to be an unassailable advantage at the Etihad.
PABLO ZABALETA had been patient in his approach from full back, linking up well with Nasri to try and purport an attacking consistency. His direct run into the area somewhat took QPR by surprise as he looped an effort into Kenny.
The ‘keeper could only watch on as his palm only served to slow the progress of the ball that dipped agonisingly into the post. It rolled off the upright and despite the best intention of the QPR keeper, ended up in the back of the net.
The noise was resounding, the Poznan was in full flow and Manchester City were on the right track for Premier League success. Touré, who provided the assist for the goal, was forced to withdraw through injury – Nigel de Jong coming on in his stead.
The visitors cut a forlorn figure with City now going for the throat. Almost exactly at the same time Stoke City surrendered their one goal lead against Bolton Wanderers and half time made for bleak viewing with QPR in the bottom three for the third time this season.
HALF TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
It was more of the same for Mancini’s men after the break – Rangers were keeping their counterparts at bay for the time being, but there was a feeling that the door was going to be broken down sooner rather than later.
Aguero tested Kenny twice from close range while Nasri’s free-kick buried its way into a sizeable wall. Then came one of the shocks of the encounter – in dramatic fashion two minutes into the half, relegation-threatened QPR drew level.
A rare attack saw Wright-Phillips clip a speculative ball forward and while Zamora failed to challenge Lescott, the former Everton man flicked his header disastrously into the path of DJIBRIL CISSÉ.
The French forward latched onto the opportunity with delight to slam a rasping drive beyond Joe Hart and send the visiting supporters into heaven. The home crowd fell silent as Rangers had an unimaginable goal.
As things stood QPR were out of the bottom three, but this only served to anger a simmering City who ploughed forward with great vigour. Clint Hill sliced wide from a Tevez cross to help restore Rangers’ resolute defence.
Say what you will about luck and the balance of play, but taking chances has been the blighted bedrock of Rangers game – particularly earlier in the season – now the hot-shot Cissé has given Rangers a reason for unbridled joy.
Shots were raining in on Rangers goal with De Jong then Aguero trying their luck without reward while QPR supporters remained buoyant, a sizeable travelling army firmly behind their hard-fighting heroes that continued to defend manfully.
Joey Barton put the afternoon in doubt five minutes before the hour mark when he was sent off on the call by the assistant referee. The former Man City man was adjudged to have elbowed Tevez with the Argentinean also guilty of a flailing arm.
While the referee was near the incident, he relied on the call of his assistant fully 40 yards away through a crowd of bodies – and Barton was sent off. This sparked a melee as the midfielder lashed out inexcusably at Aguero.
Rangers would not have to complete the task with ten men after the petulant and selfish actions of a player that will not have been the toast of his team-mates as he lost his cool in the heat of the Etihad. Joe Hart did not galvanise his reputation in the incident by celebrating Barton’s card wildly in front of the QPR supporters.
Tevez forced Kenny into a save as City were providing the ‘keeper with a wealth of practice and keeping that injured finger firmly worked. Armand Traoré was thrown on at the expense of the unfortunate Cissé – who was withdrawn to a hero’s reception.
Kenny made a smart save to deny Aguero from close range after some more slick City build up as the home side continued to knock on that door. Kenny was proving a man inspired, collecting crosses and commanding his area – an area of his game previously under the spotlight at times.
Wright-Phillips threw his body on the line to block a shot while Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand proved man-mountains as they continued to head away every attempted cross. It was one way traffic on an afternoon where City were pressing and Rangers were firmly entrenched.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson asked for ‘something silly’ to happen and out of nothing Rangers duly delivered the most stupid goal one could ask for. Substitute Traoré scampered into the City half with all the swagger of a world-class wide-man.
His deep cross on 65 minutes evaded Zamora but was perfect for JAMIE MACKIE as the forward stooped to head low beyond Hart, beyond a defender and beyond the wildest dreams of all Queens Park Rangers fans.
What was to ensue was a blur, a haze of blue and white and the atmosphere in the away end electrified and the home supporters were left to rue ‘typical City,’ who were left truly devastated by a smash and grab away goal.
The ten men were in front in the most bizarre of circumstances. Endeavour and work rate coming to fruition as City were stopped in their tracks by a sea of red and white before the under dog bit back in emphatic fashion.
Corner after corner ensued for City, who piled on the pressure in the knowledge that the title was slipping from their grasp. United were in front at Sunderland and Bolton remained ahead against Stoke – points were proving crucial for both sides.
Kenny beat away a header from come back kid Carlos Tevez – pole axed by Barton but beyond sprightly in his efforts to draw City back into the fixture. Edin Dzeko was thrown on at the expense of Gareth Barry as it was caution to the wind for the hosts.
Tevez himself taken off and Mario ‘Why always me?’ Balotelli came on in his stead. Rangers meanwhile had a striker on the brink of collapse in Zamora as Hughes threw on Jay Bothroyd on his stead – Bothroyd a scorer in the reverse fixture at Loftus Road.
The QPR bench went berserk – the Rangers fans went wild – news filtered through from the Britannia that Stoke had hauled themselves level from the spot. A controversial penalty after Peter Crouch was felled – once a Ranger always a Ranger.
Controversy and Bolton is a phrase I’ve heard before – a tale told previously with Clint Hill giving net rash to Adam Bogdan. The most tiresome phrase in football ‘these things even themselves out…’ coming to a poignant fruition.
City meanwhile continued to throw the kitchen sink at QPR, who were unrelenting in their passion, endeavour and concentration in spite of the numerical disadvantage. An errant shot from Dzeko was all City could muster of note as they grew weary.
Mancini had truly lost his temper on the touchline, remonstrating with his players and cutting the figure of a desperate manager. Given City’s incredible comeback it was bleak for the home supporters who have frankly suffered enough over the years.
Balotelli was deploying his own shoot on sight policy and every effort was blocked by a manful red and white shirt. This came as Dzeko nodded straight into the arms of Kenny – the title was ebbing away and 1968 couldn’t have seemed further.
Five minutes of added on time was given by Mike Dean as the Rangers bench erupted once more, the Bolton game was over and Rangers were safe and would be a Premier League club in 2012-13. Then what was to happen would go down in the annuls of history.
Just as the news came out EDIN DZEKO rose highest in the area to slam an excellently taken header beyond Kenny. It was met with a tepid reception by the home fans that knew they needed another in the remaining three minutes.
If the reception was somewhat tepid for this goal that brought them tantalisingly to the brink – picture the scenes as City clinched the goal that snatched the title from their Manchester rivals with just seconds to spare.
One can but describe the scenes as a weary QPR began to show signs of frailty as SERGIO AGUERO appeared a fresh pair of legs as he skipped over three tackles to work a shooting position, before slamming home beyond Paddy Kenny.
Ensue delirium, City fans made deafening noise, Rangers fans still dancing in elation and the ground nearly took off in a frenzy of delight. Deep into injury time, City turned the game on its head and displayed the mark of champions.
The final whistle was blown and both sets of supporters celebrated, mutual respect shown and the two sides could live to fight another day with their respective ambitions achieved. Stunning scenes at the Etihad that will never be forgotten by all those in attendance.
The vast majority of Rangers travelling support even joined in a chorus of Blue Moon before showing a nice touch to stay behind and clap the title winners. Manager Roberto Mancini came over to recognise the respect shown by QPR, clapping the Rs fans.
The capitulation was in an odd way disappointing, but understandable. It made my journey out of Manchester almost being carried on shoulders when I’d have had to keep my head significantly down had Aguero not converted.
Nevertheless Rangers are safe, City are champions and all at the Etihad was well on a glorious Manchester afternoon. Onwards and upwards.
FULL TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 3-2 QUEENS PARK RANGERS