The celebrations started before kick-off and went on well into the balmy Manchester night at the Etihad Stadium yesterday as Pep Guardiola was finally able to place his hands on the Premier League trophy.
Yet moments before, as the final whistle confirmed the goalless draw, the response from Guardiola’s opposite number David Wagner and his Huddersfield players proved the result was far more meaningful for the visitors, and their hopes of Premier League survival.
Huddersfield staying in the top flight on the division’s smallest budget, one could argue, is every bit as impressive an achievement as those performed by Guardiola, buoyed by his owners’ multi-billions, this season.
Yet the day, to the global footballing public beyond West Yorkshire at least, was about celebrating the Premier League champions, flamboyant winners who could yet rewrite the record books by setting new marks for the most wins, goals, and points in a season.
The fact they were denied all three of those records was fairly astonishing, given the gap in resources between the clubs, and the fact that no team since Manchester United 13 months ago had managed to escape from the Etihad without conceding a goal.
Such had been City’s dominance that they had actually been confirmed as champions three weeks earlier, after West Brom’s surprise win at Old Trafford. And that gave a slightly surreal air to celebrations which had been dragged out over the intervening 21 days, every superlative in the book having been laid at Guardiola’s feet in the interim.
“We cannot deny it would be nice to set records but it’s nicer when you win the Premier League,” said Guardiola.
“We spoke about that, these targets help to be focused, we tried and it’s so difficult. They defended with a lot of people behind and we missed a bit of inspiration.
City officials, at least, put on a good show pre-match, flags left on seats to create a fluttering sea of sky blue and white, the survivors of City’s brilliant 1968 championship side — led by Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee — introduced before kick-off and, for the third time in as many weeks, City’s current stars were shown a guard of honour by their opponents.
Some purists have commented that a third such guard of honour is overkill, opponents showing too much respect and surrendering even before kick-off, although the 90 minutes that followed certainly saw Huddersfield buck that trend.
At the end of the game, and after numerous uninvited pitch invaders had been swept off the Etihad field, a plinth and stage was hurriedly constructed on the field and one of the over-wrought modern Premier League trophy presentations took place, fireworks and smoke machines at the ready.
There was a moment of high comedy as celebrating City players knocked the trophy off its plinth and onto the pitch as they boisterously bounced around on the stage.
But, eventually, Vincent Kompany was able to lift the trophy for the third time in seven seasons and the City celebrations could begin in earnest.
Now, a home game with Brighton and visit to Southampton await City this week and, surely, will allow them to set those records that Guardiola has focused his team upon since the title was confirmed.
But it could have been a very different story yesterday had Huddersfield substitute Scott Malone not shot directly at keeper Ederson in the final minute after robbing Bernardo Silva of the ball and advancing on goal.
In the first half, Huddersfield’s Jonas Lossl had saved well from David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne while Ederson did likewise from Florent Hadergjonaj and Alex Pritchard — rare openings in a game of few clear-cut chances.
“I congratulated Pep for what he has done in England,” said Huddersfield manager Wagner. “Not only that he won the title but how he won it. It has been so impressive.
“I am a big admirer for his style of football. I love to watch his team. This is what I said to him before the game because I thought I may not get time after because the people will come on the pitch.”
MAN CITY (4-3-3):
Ederson 6; Walker 5, Otamendi 6, Stones 6 (B Silva 72, 6), Delph 7 (Mendy 56, 6); De Bruyne 6 (Gundogan 67, 6), Fernandinho 6, D Silva 6; Sterling 7, Jesus 6, Sane 7.
Subs (not used):
Bravo, Laporte, Toure, Foden.
Lossl 8; Zanka 6, Schindler 9, Kongolo 7; Smith 7, Hadergjonaj 7, Hogg 6, Mooy 8, Lowe 7 (Malone 77, 6); Pritchard 7 (van La Parra 81); Mounie 5 (Depoitre 59, 7).
Subs (not used):
Coleman, Billing, Quaner, Stankovic.
M Dean 7
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