In the final part of our look back at 2012, False Nine editor, Andrew Belt, salutes one of the best moments in Premier League history…
As was the case 44 years ago, Manchester City would be going into their final day clash with only their city rivals able to wrestle the title off them.
The 2011-12 Premier League campaign had been as topsy-turvy as a Red Arrow aeroplane playing to a delighted crowd.
Unlike the 1967-68 season, however, Manchester United were poised to snatch an improbable 20th top division title and give Sir Alex Ferguson the first chance to put one over “the noisy neighbours” in a genuine bout for English football’s highest honour.
Same old City.
Only once had Manchester City been able to put the boot in over United since they triumphed in the 1967-68 First Division season; Franny Lee’s goal giving City a 4-3 win at Newcastle United while the Red Devils succumbed 2-1 at home to Sunderland and lost parity with the-then new English champions.
How ironic then, that as Mike Dean blew the whistle on United’s final game of the 2011-12 season, Ferguson’s team had appeared to have reversed history by winning the league title away at the same opponents who had denied them before.
Same old United.
A dogged proposition under their Glaswegian master, United had made an art form of earning results even when they underperform.
As United and Ferguson picked up the greatest honours time and again, City had traversed the divisions, playing in England’s third tier as recently as 1998-99, welcomed a wealthy tyrant from Thailand and moved from Maine Road to the multi-purpose City of Manchester Stadium before being purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008 and becoming the richest club in the world.
All through the many tribulations before being awarded their lucrative financial safety blanket, the City fans had remained.
It must have been through gritted teeth that they watched their more illustrious city rivals rise to the top of world football as City floundered for much of the latter part of the 20th century and the first several years after the Millennium.
At least fans of a certain vintage could recall the only other time that City had played such a crucial part in depriving United of Manchester bragging rights.
Biting the hand that fed him, Denis Law scored with a backheel to condemn United to relegation from the top division as City won at Old Trafford in 1974.
Once more, City could sink the knife in come 2012 but, remarkably, with three minutes of stoppage time remaining versus Queens Park Rangers at home they were 2-1 behind.
It was already confirmed that United had won at the Stadium of Light and the Premier League was close to witnessing the Premier League’s greatest implosion since Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United side had let a 12-point lead at the top of table slip from their grasp in 1996.
And who had profited that time round?
Ferguson’s United, of course. Like Germany in major tournaments, United in the Premier League have been moulded into a side never to be written off with the wily old Scot around.
City’s 6-1 humiliation of United at Old Trafford in October had put them five points clear of their rivals yet this would matter for little if they couldn’t bring the Premier League trophy to Eastlands.
The industry of Yaya Toure, the creativity of David Silva, the occasional brilliance of Mario Balotelli and the infallibility of Vincent Kompany in defence had put City on course for that elusive first championship for 44 years.
However, increasing friction within the squad, indiscipline and bewilderingly poor away form between January and March had cost Roberto Mancini’s side the initiative as they fell eight points behind United with six games to go.
All seemed lost.
City regained their poise and, crucially, did the double over United thanks to Kompany’s header in a tense encounter at the City of Manchester Stadium that put them ahead of United on goal difference with two games to go.
Had United not allowed Everton to score twice in the last ten minutes to earn a crazy 4-4 draw at Old Trafford then it wouldn’t have mattered as much but now, all City had to do was beat Newcastle United and QPR and earn their first Premier League crown.
The trickier of the two games was negotiated safely as City emerged from St James’s Park with one hand on the trophy courtesy of a 2-0 win, inspired by second-half strikes from the irrepressible Toure. However, United had kept pace with Mancini’s men and with minutes of the game at the Etihad Stadium remaining looked to have snuck in again.
City weren’t done though. With all the hard work incredibly about to be undone, Edin Dzeko equalised to give themselves a lifeline.
Fans and players of Manchester United were virtually celebrating at the Stadium of Light as they waited for their city neighbours to end their game.
But, then it happened.
Balotelli controlled the ball with his back to goal and fed Sergio Aguero, whose first touch enabled him to shoot and the Argentine made no mistake, putting his laces through the ball to send it past Paddy Kenny and into the net with only seconds now remaining.
Cue the majority of a 47, 000 crowd going wild along with many watching City fans watching the game on TV. Millions watched mouths agape and the only ones not enthralled by the drama were the gobsmacked hordes of United fans so used to celebrating decisive late goals themselves.
The greatest twist-in-the-tale the Premier League had ever seen.
And, like City’s conquests in the past, it was United who felt sharply contrasting emotions at the height of their rivals’ joy.
They swept all before them, stumbled to an almost irreversible trailing position, regained an improbable foothold with a game to spare then nearly threw it all away only to triumph in the most spectacular fashion.
Football in 2012 was indebted to this moment that showcased the thrilling unpredictability of the Premier League at its best.
Follow The False Nine on Twitter: @The_False_Nine