Manchester United clinched their 17th English championship on Sunday by beating Wigan 2-0 in a nail-biting finale to the most thrilling Premier League title battle in years.
Pushed to the wire by Chelsea, United claimed the 10th title of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign by two points after their rivals were held to a 1-1 draw by Bolton in their final match.
“It was a tough one but it is fantastic,” Ferguson said. “I’m very proud but I have a great club. It’s much easier for me than anyone else.”
Typically, his thoughts immediately turned to the next challenge — next week’s Champions League final against Chelsea.
“The great thing is we are bouncing into the final. We can look forward to it. If we lost to Chelsea today that is a big job,” he said.
Chelsea boss Avram Grant paid tribute to Ferguson’s extension of an extraordinary record of success.
“I want to congratulate Manchester United and Alex Ferguson,” Grant said. “He is a great manager and a great person, I like him personally. It is amazing what he did.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, with a first-half penalty, and Ryan Giggs were United’s match winners.
The Red Devils had been given a huge pre-match boost by the return from injury of Wayne Rooney and the England forward’s influence was to prove decisive.
After winning the first-half penalty that enabled Ronaldo to claim his 41st goal of the season, Rooney played in Giggs for the 80th-minute strike that ended any doubt about how the afternoon would end.
Equally influential however was the fact that all the key decisions made by referee Steve Bennett went United’s way.
The official denied Wigan an early penalty when Rio Ferdinand blocked a shot with his upper arm, awarded a debatable one to United and failed to issue a second yellow card to Paul Scholes for a blatant body check on Wilson Palacios.
Even if they had beaten Bolton, Chelsea would have lost out to United on goal difference.
As it turned out, Kevin Davies’ last-minute equalizer earned Bolton a draw at Stamford Bridge after Andriy Shevchenko had kept their hopes alive with his first goal since Dec. 26.
At the other end of the table, Danny Murphy’s 75th-minute strike gave Fulham a 1-0 win at FA Cup finalists Portsmouth that secured the west London club’s top-flight status.
Fulham’s survival came at the expense of Birmingham and Reading, who will both be playing Championship soccer next season, along with already-relegated Derby.
Birmingham and Reading went down fighting, winning their final matches in convincing fashion. Birmingham beat Blackburn 4-1 while Reading were 4-0 winners at Derby.
Reading finished level with Fulham on points but were condemned by an inferior goal difference while Birmingham finished a point further back.
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has admitted his joy at seeing his side pull off a remarkable escape from relegation was tempered by sadness for Steve Coppell and Alex McLeish, the managers he condemned to the drop.
Hodgson said: “I know exactly how Alex McLeish and Steve Coppell are feeling because the same sort of thoughts were going through my head during the game.”
“I am good friends with both of them and I feel sorry for them because going down is a horrible feeling,” he said.
“When we scored I wanted the game to end there and then because I wasn’t sure my heart could take the tension in the last 15 minutes,” Hodgson said.