By Ross CraeFollow @JfGpodcasts
Well that’s that then. The Premier League came to an end this weekend as the final league places were decided. We already knew that Manchester United were Champions. We already knew that Wigan, Reading and QPR were going down. There were just some pesky European places to sort out.
Arsenal travelled to Newcastle while Spurs hosted Sunderland as there was a battle to secure a top four spot that ensures Champions League football. There was a lack of exciting last day action in the first halves at both St James’ Park and White Hart Lane.
Steve Harper, leaving Newcastle after 20 years at the club, was captain for the day and got a standing ovation on 37 minutes (his shirt number). It was a lovely touch and one of many for the several football heroes playing their final games this Sunday.
Back in London, Gareth Bale was booked yet again for diving despite Sebastian Larsson clearly bringing him down and the penalty shout looking like one that was built from stones in the shape of a wall.
The second halves brightened up, apart from in the case of Howard Webb and his refereeing team’s kits in the north – they had to change from bright yellow to dull green to avoid flies in perhaps one of the season’s most bizarre substitutions.
Andre Marriner, the man in the middle in London, further enraged Spurs when Black Cats defender Carlos Cuellar looked to have handled in the box. Incredibly Andre Villas-Boas’ men have gone the whole season without being given a penalty in the league.
As the minutes ticked by simultaneously in the north and south, we finally had a goal, and it came for the Gunners. Laurent Koscielny provided the great finish, showing a slight degree of acrobatic ability after Lukas Podolski headed a Theo Walcott free-kick in his direction on 53 minutes.
Hundreds of miles away, news of the goal filtered through and Spurs scrambled to get a goal, forcing a double block from Jack Colback as the visitors defended well against increasing pressure.
Shortly after false news of a Newcastle equaliser gave Spurs fans hope, there was a real lift as Sunderland’s David Vaughan picked up second yellow for foul on Aaron Lennon. Then came the goal, a trademark exquisite curler from Bale in the 90th minute.
As nerves set in back with the Gunners, Walcott hit the post and Arsenal fans crossed their fingers and hoped they could see out the game. Thankfully for Arsene and co, they did, leaving Spurs once again falling at the last hurdle.
Joining the Gunners in the Champions League spots are Chelsea who faced a tricky game at Stamford Bridge against Everton. It was both Rafael Benitez and David Moyes’ last games in charge and the Spaniard had the better start.
Juan Mata opened the scoring for the newly crowned Europa League champions on eight minutes after a Demba Ba shot was parried by Tim Howard into the Spaniard’s path.
The lead only lasted until the 14th minute, when a David Luiz mistake allowed Steven Naismith to play a one-two with Victor Anichebe and clip a composed finish past Petr Cech.
Cech had to be alert throughout the game, pushing a long range shot from Darron Gibson onto the post and producing a point blank save from Nikica Jelavic.
Fernando Torres was the man on target to give Chelsea a final day victory in the 76th minute, Victor Moses heading a cross down in the box for the Spanish striker to fire past Howard at his near post.
It’s almost time for Brendan Rodgers to open his famous envelopes. Hopefully one of the names won’t be Jamie Carragher’s as he celebrated his final game for Liverpool as they faced QPR.
The Reds should have had an early lead as Coutinho’s header looked to have crossed the line but the little Brazilian soon scored the only actual goal of the game. 17 year old Jordon Ibe set up Coutinho to send a powerful strike sailing past rob green on 13 minutes.
Carragher almost had a fairytale ending when he struck the bar with 35 yard rocket that flew off his boot, but a clean sheet and three points would be received just as well by him as he bids his farewells.
Reading travelled to West Ham for their final Premier League game before dropping down into the depths of despair. They were two goals down at the break, and the first on 23 minutes came from their own mistake. Alex McCarthy tried to clear a ball but the keeper’s kick deflected off the back of Andy Carroll who was lurking close by and fell to Kevin Nolan who could hardly believe his luck.
Ricardo Vaz Te netted the second on 34 minutes, Carroll again involved in bringing a long ball forward down and setting up Vaz Te for the shot.
The Royals hauled themselves level out of nowhere in the space of a couple of second half minutes. Gareth McCleary’s shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off Mark Noble on 53 minutes and Adam Le Fondre was given a tap-in on 55 minutes from a superb ball by Nick Blackman.
The Hammers had a devastating weapon in Nolan, and he scored a second after 79 minutes. He headed in a Modibo Maiga cross to complete his hat-trick on 87 minutes.
Fulham beat Swansea in South Wales. Alex Kacaniklic opened the scoring on 22 minutes, finishing well past Michael Vorm after a slick passing move reminiscent of the hosts’ style of play.
Mark Schwarzer turned thwartzer as he prevented a shot from Pablo Hernandez, one of many good chances for the Swans.
The visitors, however, took their chances well. Dimitar Berbatov scored the Cottagers’ second after 77 minutes, played in by Bryan Ruiz and shimmying past a helpless Vorm before netting.
In stoppage time, Urby Emanuelson completed the misleading scoreline with an easy finish after Vorm pushed Giorgos Karagounis’s shot into his path. Swansea had dominated but were well beaten. It’s a funny old game.
Southampton had the joy of a visit from Stoke to end their season. They almost got off to a great start when Rickie Lambert found the net in the first minute but his effort was ruled out for offside.
The first goal came for the visitors on 47 minutes, Peter Crouch heading in a cross from Geoff Cameron. Lambert got the equaliser ten minutes later, a Steven Davis shot deflected to the striker right in front of goal and he scrambled it in.
Michael Owen appeared as a substitute in his final game before retirement and promptly fluffed a late chance – he’ll have many more positive memories from his career.
This year’s FA Cup Winners and next year’s Championship 11th placers Wigan hosted Aston Villa. The game could have been a relegation decider had the Latics not been decimated by Arsenal last Tuesday.
In the absence of the suspended Christian Benteke, Darren Bent led the line for Villa (remember him?) and scored after just 5 minutes, firing a shot in off the post.
Emmerson Boyce’s powerful header on 20 minutes from a Roger Espinoza cross gave relegated Wigan an equaliser before a Nathan Baker own goal on the stroke of half time after a 6 yard box scramble from a corner made it 2-1 to the home side.
Villa’s equaliser on the hour mark was much more spectacular, defender Ron Vlaar controlling a Joe Bennet free-kick and dispatching a half volley strike past Joel Robles.
Farewell, Wigan, it has been fun.
Manchester City finished the season without sacked manager Roberto Mancini and with a defeat to Norwich. On 26 minutes, the Canaries opened the scoring, Wes Hoolahan’s tenacity in breaking his way through the City defence rewarded with a fine finish from Anthony Pilkington.
Jack Rodwell levelled for City just three minutes later, teed up by Edin Dzeko in the box.
Norwich had the lead again in the second half, Robert Snodgrass finding himself free in the box and playing the ball to an unmarked Grant Holt who finished at the far post on 54 minutes.
Again Rodwell provided a quick equaliser, this time four minutes later. The former Everton midfielder steamed forward, beating Steven Whittaker for pace, and finished across goal into the far corner.
Johnny Howson ended his season in sensational fashion, scoring the Canaries’ winner with a superb individual goal on 65 minutes.
The game also marked the final game before retirement for referee Mark Halsey.
The maddest game of the weekend was at The Hawthorns, Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1500th and final game in charge of Manchester United.
Shinji Kagawa opened the scoring against West Brom after six minutes, a long ball from Alexander Buttner looked like it would trickle out of play but Javier Hernandez got on the end of it and put in a perfect cross for Kagawa to head in. Just three minutes later, an Antonio Valencia ball in was diverted past Ben Foster by Jonas Olsson. Buttner made it three on the half hour mark, arriving unmarked in the box and thumping past Foster.
James Morrison put down his guitar (yes, that old joke returning for the season finale) and squeezed a shot under Anders Lindegaard to pull one back for the Baggies on 40 minutes.
Romelu Lukaku came on at half time and started his one man show on 50 minutes, Lindegaard managing to get a hand to his shot but palming it into the back of the net in the process.
Robin Van Persie’s instinctive finish on 53 minutes and Hernandez’s tap in ten minutes later looked to have got United back on track but Lukaku had other ideas.
On 81 minutes he was played straight through the middle and slotted home under Lindegaard. He also assisted in the build-up to Youssouf Mulumbu’s goal seconds afterwards.
The incredible equaliser completed Lukaku’s hat-trick, the Belgian striker bundling the ball over the line on 86 minutes.
What a game to end a magnificent career for Sir Alex.
And that concludes the round-up. Thank you if you’ve put yourself through the trauma of reading it and a special thanks to the JfG team for allowing it to be published. Now what to do over the summer…