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Manchester City twists history by snatching title from certain defeat

1. Manchester City is, at last, the champion. As certain triumph seemed suddenly to be turning into crushing humiliating defeat, Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager went to his all-star bench.

When City's dominant midfielder, Yaya Touré, injured a hamstring late in the first half, Mancini was able to bring on Nigel de Jong, a World Cup finalist. It hardly seemed to matter. City was winning by a goal and in cruise control against a hopelessly overmatched opponent.

But then Djibril Cissé pounced on Joleon Lescott's error to level and then Jamie Mackie gave 10-man Queens Park Rangers an unlikely lead. Manchester United was winning at Sunderland. It was all going horribly wrong. Mancini took off Gareth Barry, another midfielder, and brought on Edin Dzeko, a striker City had bought for £27 million. Then he took off the prodigal son, Carlos Tévez, who, in a crisis, had begun to revert to selfish, do-it-all-myself Carlos, and brought on another character who has had a troubled season, Mario Balotelli, an Italian international bought for £22 million.

Balotelli added a spark, but as City laid siege, Dzeko once more looked clumsy and uncertain. As chances came and went and the 90 minutes ticked up, the title seemed to have slipped from City's grasp. Then, in the second minute of added time, from City's 19th corner, Dzeko rediscovered the menace that City paid so much for. He outleaped the defense and smashed a header past Paddy Kenny. Two minutes later, another sub, Balotelli, found Sergio Agüero with a cute pass. Agüero hopped past a tackle and buried his shot with ice-cold certainty.

QPR was buried by the huge bags of money Mancini was able to throw onto the field. City won 3-2. It was the champion of England for the first time since 1968.

Balotelli and Dzeko may well be leaving City at reduced prices this summer, but in their brief cameos in the closing minutes of the season, both repaid the huge sums City had lavished on them.

Mancini did not even have the energy to smile as he faced cameras with an Italian flag draped round his shoulder.

"I am 19 years old," he said. He meant 90, and he looked it.

"Five minutes to the end I did not think we could win this game,'' he said. "We wanted it. We wanted it."

And summing out a wild afternoon, he added: "It's crazy. I can't take this."

2. Blue Moon rising. As the end of regulation approached, some Manchester City fans started leaving. After waiting 44 years in the hope of a title, they couldn't even wait for five more minutes in the hope of a miracle. But these were City fans. They just knew it would turn out badly.

Most fans of most clubs spend most of their supporting lives suffering.

Every club tortures its fans in subtly different ways, depending on its status, expectations and history. The suffering of the fans of big clubs is not worse than those of smaller clubs, but big clubs are big clubs because they have more fans who can suffer.

In the Premier League era, Newcastle and Leeds have inflicted particularly violent pain on their fans, raising their hopes extremely high, failing and then collapsing to relegation. But no club has inflicted more subtle, creative and unexpected variations of pain on its fans for longer than Manchester City. The supporter's mantra has been "typical City." This is a club that had won two league titles and six Cups despite its penchant for snatching defeat from victory in the most unlikely ways. Denis Law once scored six goals in a Cup tie for City. The game was abandoned because of the weather. City lost when the game was played again. Among the long list of bizarre failures -- promotions missed on goal difference, titles blown with spectacular collapses -- the 1937-38 season stands out. City, the reigning champion, was safe with a month to go, suffered a late collapse while those below surged and became the only team ever relegated with a positive goal difference.

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In the 44 years since its last title, won by a truly great City team in 1968, the fans have kept the faith. Turning up in huge numbers: singing "Blue Moon," introducing first inflatable objects and then the Poznan to English soccer. Look up "long suffering" in the dictionary, and you'll see a picture of City fans.

After 90 minutes on Sunday, City, having blown a lead against a bottom-four team playing with 10 men, seemed set to reward its long-suffering fans with another imaginative failure. The faces in the crowd didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Vincent Kompany, the club captain, probably spoke for the whole blue half of Manchester when the first thing he said to the camera after the end was, "Please never again this way."

Meanwhile, in Sunderland, supporters who have hardly suffered at all over the last 20 seasons were receiving a lesson in how other fans live. United had won 1-0 at Sunderland. As news came through that a title they had thought was theirs had somehow slipped away, United fans looked simply dazed and puzzled.

3. Rangers are safe. Perhaps the tide started running against United when Jon Walters converted a 76th-minute penalty for Stoke at home to Bolton. That made the score 2-2, which is the way the game finished. It meant that QPR could lose and still avoid relegation.

QPR's fans let their team know. Rangers had defended heroically, but now it didn't matter. Perhaps that explains the holes Dzeko and Agüero found in the dying seconds. Or perhaps it was the exhaustion of playing 35 minutes with 10 men.

For the home fans, there must have been a certain poignancy in the sight of Joey Barton seeing red once more on City turf. Barton started his career at City. He played 130 games for the club. He was good enough to make it into the England team. Yet in many ways he epitomized self-sabotaging City. Permanently argumentative and seemingly always on the verge of losing his temper, he got in brawls on and off the field and eventually exhausted the club's patience. City gratefully dumped him on Newcastle.

On Sunday, he received his red card for elbowing Tévez. Barton told Sky it was in self-defense. The pictures suggested that the Argentine, who can look mildly scary, had done nothing more menacing than glance at Barton. If Barton is going down, he will go down in flames. When he saw the red, he saw red. On the way off the field he kicked Agüero and attempted to butt Kompany.

Perhaps it was the best thing he ever did for City, and he's no longer their player. Typical Barton.

4. Tottenham on Champions League bubble. If Harry Redknapp had any lingering goodwill toward Roy Hodgson, the man who beat him to the England manager's job, it evaporated Sunday.

To finish third, and above Arsenal for the first time in the Premier League era, Tottenham needed to win at home against Fulham and hope Arsenal failed to win at Hodgson's West Brom. Arsenal, a team of wild mood swings this season, had not won in three games. Unfortunately, West Brom had lost nine of its 18 home games. After 15 minutes, Tottenham was winning, Arsenal was losing and the fans at White Hart Lane were singing deliriously. Tottenham had a few scares but duly wrapped up a 2-0 victory. Meanwhile, Arsenal had fought back at the Hawthorns and won 3-2.

Arsenal was third. Tottenham was fourth. It matters, and not just because North London pride was at stake. The Premier League is entitled to four places in next season's Champions League. But, under UEFA rules, the competition winner gets an automatic place if it hasn't qualified from its domestic league. That means that if another of Tottenham's despised London rivals, Chelsea, wins the final next week, it will take the fourth place. Suddenly, a lot of North Londoners are Bayern fans.

5. Chelsea looks ahead. As John Terry looked around at the benchwarmers and backups surrounding him on the field as Chelsea kicked off against Blackburn on Sunday, he probably reflected ruefully that he would rather be in a position to taking a rest like most of the team's other stars. They were saving their energies for the Champions League final. Terry didn't need to. He is suspended for that match in Munich. Still Terry made the most of his day, scoring the opening goal in a 2-1 victory. The result was meaningless. After eight straight top-two finishes, Chelsea ended the season in sixth place. Blackburn started the day certain to finish 19th and on the way out of the Premier League.

Of the team that began against Blackburn, only Branislav Ivanovic looks like a strong bet to start against Bayern. The break will have done Chelsea's stars good. The result will not be nearly as cheering as the one in Berlin on Saturday, where Munich fielded a full-strength team against Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final. Bayern was crushed 5-2.