The muted response from the Old Trafford faithful said it all.
Alex Ferguson issued the rallying call as he addressed the troops from the pitch in his end-of-season speech from the centre-circle. Next Sunday could prove to be the “biggest celebration of our lives”. The half-hearted reaction to the venerable knight’s microphone-based assertion spoke volumes.
Ferguson admits he’s living in hope that Manchester United can pull-off an improbable turn-around to deny Manchester City by claiming the Premier League title on its final weekend, but hope is just about all they have. They did their part by at least extending the issue to the final round of matches with a predictably comfortable 2-0 victory over Swansea.
But in truth, Ferguson and those of the 75,000 crowd who stuck around to listen knew that the damage had been done earlier in the day, thanks to City’s win at Newcastle by the same scoreline, one which leaves them in pole position to end their 44-year wait to claim the top-flight crown.
Manchester United travel to the Stadium of Light to end the campaign against a Sunderland side who haven’t beaten them in the league for 15 years spanning 19 attempts. However, City will be overwhelming favourites to overcome a notoriously travel sick QPR, who’ve won just three times on the road this season.
The Premier League title has never been decided on goal difference, but there’s every chance that will change this season. With the rivals locked on 86 points, thanks to their vastly inferior tally, United will have to better City’s final day result to finish above their near neighbours. A victory for both — barring a mathematical miracle courtesy of an unlikely eight-goal swing — will spark huge celebrations in the blue half of Manchester.
“People will think City have both hands on the trophy, and of course it’s going to be very difficult for us to win the league,” conceded Ferguson, whose side have surrendered an eight-point lead in the last month. He added: “But you have to think there’s hope. QPR go to City looking for survival. They’re fighting for their lives and need to get something. City are favourites, but QPR have a chance.”
Mark Hughes, the Rangers manager and former United forward was sacked by City in somewhat shoddy circumstances two-and-a-half years ago. Ferguson hopes the lack of respect with which the Welshman was treated will prove to be a factor in their favour, as he hopes for a Devon Loch-style collapse from City similar to the ill-fated Grand National horse.
“I just wish Mark Hughes was playing for QPR,” the Scot added. “He was sacked in a very unethical way by City and I’m sure he will remember that. There could be a Devon Loch, you never know. Stranger things have happened.”
Michael Carrick mirrored his manager’s attempts to clutch at straws. The England midfielder added: “We were hoping for something from Newcastle against City, but it didn’t happen. We had to be professional to win the game and to take it to the final week. That’s all we could do, and we live in hope.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance, and who knows what will happen? We’ve got to make sure we win at Sunderland. We’ll keep believing.”
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