Manchester United retained the Premiership title after beating Wigan Athletic 2-0 at the JJB Stadium.
With Chelsea expected to beat Bolton at home, United needed three points to be sure of sealing top spot, and they started nervously against a well-organised Wigan side who have finished the season strongly. United were awarded a 33rd-minute penalty when Emmerson Boyce brought down Wayne Rooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo sent Chris Kirland the wrong way to make it 1-0. The win was sealed in the 80th minute when Rooney played in Ryan Giggs, who slotted past Chris Kirland. The result rendered the outcome at Stamford Bridge academic.
As it happened, a last minute equaliser from Ryan Taylor cancelled out Andrii Shevchenko’s strike, so United finish the season two points ahead of Chelsea. Chelsea have done well to bounce back from a difficult start to the season, and their points tally of 85 would in an ordinary season have represented a championship-winning total. However, few will begrudge Manchester United their success after a season in which they have been consistently solid in every area of the pitch, with only the most sporadic of exceptions.
Everton put their recent poor form behind them to confirm fifth place – and UEFA Cup football – with a 3-1 win over Newcastle at Goodison Park. A Michael Owen penalty cancelled out Yakubu’s opener, before Joleon Lescott put Everton in front and Yakubu added a third. Aston Villa, held to a 2-2 draw away at West Ham, will have to succeed in the Intertoto Cup over the summer if they are to join Everton in the UEFA Cup.
A Middlesbrough side with nothing much to play for produced the day’s shock result at the Riverside Stadium against Manchester City. It is quite possible that City’s players were dejected at the impending departure of popular manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, but this surely cannot entirely explain how they contrived to lose 8-1 to a Boro side not renowned for its goalscoring prowess. Brazilian striker Alfonso Alves, who is settling in well following his move from Heerenveen, bagged a hat-trick for Boro. City’s good disciplinary record means they look set to make it into the UEFA Cup, after UEFA confirmed that England will be awarded a bonus place in next season’s competition courtesy of the Fair Play league.
Fulham completed their remarkable survival bid with a 1-0 win at Portsmouth, courtesy of a second half goal from former England international Danny Murphy. The Cottagers’ win was bad news for Reading and Birmingham, both of whom secured good wins on the final day – Birmingham thrashed Blackburn 4-1 at St Andrews, while Reading beat Derby 4-0 at Pride Park. Both Reading and Birmingham will join Derby in next season’s second tier. They will be replaced by West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City, along with the winners of the upcoming playoffs.
By Houman Barekat