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Drama all the way at the Stadium of Light
THE head of Wayne Rooney had put Manchester United in front, Manchester City had fallen behind and the clock was ticking towards a 20th league title heading for Old Trafford.
An eerie silence had broken out around the Stadium of Light, as Sir Alex Ferguson, his table-topping squad and 2,600 travelling supporters geared up to party in Wearside surroundings.
As those of a Manchester United persuasion waited for confirmation of a favourable outcome, the only word which came through was of a completely different sort.
Sunderland may have been unable to prevent United from winning, but the real celebrations were about to start at the Etihad Stadium.
Home fans began to replicate the blue half of Manchester's adopted trademark dance, the Poznan, in the south-west corner of the Stadium of Light as mobile phones and radios brought news that Manchester City had finally won the most dramatic of Premier League title battles.
When Rooney coasted behind Michael Turner to head Phil Jones' pinpoint delivery beyond Simon Mignolet in the 20th minute, United were well on the way to delivering their side of the bargain on the final day.
Ferguson, who sat quietly in his dug-out until deep into the second half, was soon aware that United were top. Despite a Sunderland display full of intention, endeavour and resolve, it was a lead which they never seemed likely to throw away.
But 20 minutes after Rooney's opener, Manchester City had returned to the top, courtesy of Pablo Zabaleta. At that stage there was no sense of what was to come.
City, on home soil against a team struggling against relegation, had their first title in 44 years in their grasp.
Then, seconds after Sunderland's outstanding goalkeeper Simon Mignolet came rushing out to make an excellent stop to deny Rooney, Queens Park Rangers pulled themselves level at the Etihad.
Djibril Cisse, the former Liverpool and Sunderland striker, was the man to deliver and a second from Jamie Mackie brought mixed scenes from all the fans on Wearside. The title - again - was heading back to Salford.
In typical United fashion, they kept things tight, organised and effective despite the tension.
To Sunderland's credit, though, there was also a performance from those in red and white shirts to be proud of.
Despite a lack of threat to goalkeeper David De Gea's goal, Sunderland stuck to their task and attempted to frustrate a team desperate to retain the Premier League crown they won 12 months earlier.
Just as it seemed United had done their job, things took a further turn.
This time, shortly before the final whistle at the Stadium of Light, Edin Dzeko's late equaliser back in Manchester raised blue hope.
And, then, it happened. Deep, deep in to stoppage time at the Etihad, with United's players all standing around in expectation rather than hope in the North-East, along came Sergio Aguero's dramatic winner.
As Sunderland fans cheered to tease their high-flying counterparts, Ferguson took a short walk on to the pitch, ordered his players to applaud the club's supporters, before heading straight down the tunnel.
The only parade at the Stadium of Light after that was carried out by the Sunderland players, who all re-emerged to embark on their own lap of appreciation for the people of Sunderland.
Back in 1968 when Manchester City won their last league title it was Sunderland that made it happen. On that occasion Sunderland defeated United to gift the Citizens their crown.
This time around United were not about to blow it, even if Sunderland had made it as difficult as they possibly could for them on a final day when all they had to play for was a possible tenth place finish.
In a bid to try to end a run of eight matches without a win since losing to Everton in the FA cup quarter-final replay, Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill brought in Titus Bramble, David Vaughan and Fraizer Campbell.
Among those left out was Nicklas Bendtner, whose frustration at being left out highlighted the likelihood that he has played his last game for the club after his loan from Arsenal.
O'Neill, playing with Campbell wide right, and Ferguson had sent out similar styles initially, with two holding midfielders, and that did restrict United in their attacking movement.
But once Vaughan's long range shot had been held by David De Gea, Rooney didn't need a second invitation to put the Red Devils ahead inside 20 minutes.
When Michael Carrick had fed Phil Jones out wide, the England defender floated a cross towards the Sunderland back post.
Rooney - who also hit the bar with a free-kick and side-footed wide from six yards - charged in behind Turner and cushioned a header beyond Mignolet.
After that there weren't too many great chances. What chances there were, though, Mignolet was in no mood to concede more.
He had already denied Ryan Giggs once before he made one of the saves of the season. After diving low to his right when Paul Scholes' low strike hit the foot of the post, Mignolet had the speed and thought to jump to his feet, charge right and make a flying save to deny a goalbound volleyed rebound from Giggs.
There were a few other flashes, with Campbell missing a volley to equalise earlier in the game, but the stage had been set over at the Etihad Stadium.
In the end the outcome at the Stadium of Light was rendered pretty meaningless. It was the heroics of Manchester City rather than United's ability to defeat Sunderland that really mattered on a day when everything else seemed almost irrelevant.
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