The best team, it has to be said, won. Manchester United have been the best team in the Premier League this season, no matter how unctuous they have been at times, and no matter how doggedly they were pursued for the length of the season by Chelsea. This afternoon’s win at Wigan Athletic was a reasonably run of the mill affair, leaving Sky Sports some distance short of the amount of drama that they had promised their viewers that there would be this afternoon. While United went into cruise control at The JJB Stadium, Chelsea were stuttering and stalling at Stamford Bridge against Bolton Wanderers. United’s result meant that what happened at Stamford Bridge (barring a twenty goal win) was largely irrelevant, but Matthew Taylor’s late equalizer finally created a little daylight between the top two and settled any nerves that Bolton may have had over slipping through the trapdoor and back into the Championship.
At the bottom of the table, things were much more tense. It looked for most of the afternoon as if things would stay very much as they were. Reading were strolling to victory at Pride Park against a predictably wretched Derby County and Birmingham City were handing out a last day thrashing to Blackburn Rovers, though it was too little, too late as long as Reading won at Derby. Everything was thrown upside down with fifteen minutes to play, though, when Danny Murphy (who was going to be substituted by Roy Hodgson at that very moment, but wasn’t because the hadn’t submitted the required paperwork to the fourth official in time) headed Fulham in front at Portsmouth. The Fratton Park crowd were very unhappy with their own team for not putting in a massive effort in the last fifteen minutes, and things stayed as they were until full time, sending Reading down after two years in the Premier League. Birmingham City joined them, with rumours circulating that David Sullivan has had enough and may be looking to get away from St Andrews. Fulham’s escape wasn’t the greatest escape of all (I’d still give that award to West Ham United last year, or perhaps Luton Town in 1983), but it was a major achievement and, for all that I’m hardly a massive fan of Mohammed Al-Fayed, Craven Cottage will still be a small oasis of civility in the Premier League again next season.
As for the rest of them, well there were certainly indications that some clubs were giving worrying signs for their supporters. Tottenham Hotspur, you might have thought, would give one last push at persuading Dimitar Berbatov to stay at White Hart Lane, but their timidity in losing 2-0 at home to Liverpool was such that his departure is, if anything, even more certain than it was at lunchtime. Quite what happened to Manchester City, meanwhile, is almost beyond belief. Fair enough, they lost Richard Dunne to a red card after fifteen minutes and, without Micah Richards at the back, this left them without any defenders of much calibre. Conceding eight goals, however, will almost certainly prove to be enough to do for Sven Goran Eriksson (if nothing else, it has given Thaksin Shinawatra the excuse that he has been looking for). One small crumb of comfort for their long suffering supporters, however, with City winning the final English UEFA Cup place, after grabbing top spot in the fair play league.
And that’s that for the Premier League this season. Of course, there are still things to tie up – the UEFA Cup final between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg is on Wednesday night, then we have the FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Cardiff City, the European Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United, the remainder of the play-offs and the European Championships. Plenty more to look forward to, then.