Leading up to the match, the only debate raging seemed to be the manner in which the club parked the bus at the Ethiad. Humourous team suggestions included nine defenders and two keepers, and a human shield in front of goal until time ran out. Fans from every corner of the Bush and R's supporters around the world were buzzing with nervous excitement and every permutation of the survival scenarios were contemplated. Leading Bolton by two points, the R's needed to either win or draw against City to stay up on their own merits, or have Bolton lose or draw to skate by on points.
With Samba Diakite sidelined by a virus, Adel Taarabt was left out of the starting squad in favour of Shaun Wright-Philips. It was a calculated gamble that the former City man might bring more experience and pace than the creative midfielder who lacks defensive discipline, and it paid off. Wright-Philips struggled to make an impact since arriving at Loftus Road this season, but he played with a previously unseen grit Sunday, laying out in the QPR half and tireless seeking the ball to disrupt the Manchester probes on the wing. He gave away a free kick in a dangerous area, but overall hustled effectively and was an energetic and useful contributor when the team needed it most. To a man the squad gave their all, leaving everything they had on the field in a tense match that saw the highest scoring team in the league struggle to find answers to QPR's valiant defending.
The opening sequences saw the R's frustrate and deny a persistent City attack as the tension continued to mount in the Ethiad Stadium. Despite their hard work, it is a difficult task to be on the back foot constantly, and eventually even the stout resistance broke down. Pablo Zabaleta put the home side ahead on a close range effort that skipped through Paddy Kenny's hands and eventually fell over the line. The replays did the keeper few favours, but he was under steady pressure and eventually it got the best of him. He would recover and make some difficult stops throughout the match, including a point-blank denial of Mario Balotelli late that could have saved the game.
To their credit, the R's never quit, and in the modern age of simulatneous reports from around the league, they knew that Bolton was waging their own war at the Britannia Stadium, taking a 2-1 lead on Stoke that might force QPR out of the top flight. City had their own worries to contend with as title-hopefuls United took a lead at Sunderland and never looked back. With their defensive works taking the punch out of City's high-flying offence, QPR found a few opportunities to push out and capitalised on them with dramatic effect. In the 56th minute Wright-Philip launched a deep ball into City's end, that Joleon Lescott tried to head behind him to his keeper. To his and the crowd's dismay, Djibril Cisse had manoeuvred his way between the defenders where he intercepted the pass and slotted it home to equalise. He remains QPR's most dynamic scoring threat and once again pulled the team from the fire at a crucial moment.
The thrilling match was then marred by yet another ugly incident in Joey Barton's ignominious career. The consequences of it will be argued for some time, but the facts captured by the cameras were undeniable. Barton elbowed Carlos Tevez in the face away from the play, sending the mercurial Argentine to the ground. Barton later claimed he was responding to a punch to the head by Tevez, and there may have been some pushing and shoving before the incident, but it still doesn't justify his actions. Referee Mike Dean considered the moment, issued a red card, and then the trouble started. After being booked he continued to argue before kicking Sergio Aguero in the back, an embarrassing and unnecessary escalation that set the stadium on fire and threatened to devolve the classic battle into an utter fracas. While being dragged away from the throng of players he tried to headbutt City captain Vincent Kompany, and had to be continually restrained by Micah Richards and QPR coaches. Barton took to Twitter to defend himself, with the laughable explanation that he was trying to take one of the other team's players off with him, as if that would have made it acceptable. That's a child's logic and another example of the kind of player he is when his dander is up - a liability.
Barton has been a focal point of supporter's frustrations this season, culminating in being booed off the field at Loftus Road earlier this year because of his poor play and unending self-righteousness. He was brought in to be a leader, but has delivered uneven play and off-field distractions. This column has given credit when due, and there have been matches where he put forth a solid game and was a positive influence. But he's never earned the mantle of Captain that was so bloodlessly awarded as a contract enticement, and he may have permanently damaged his relationship with the fans with this incident. He jeopardized so much at the worst possible moment - the fact that the club avoided relegation is small comfort for the fact that he threw the elbow that set these events in motion. Mark Hughes and the league will decide his punishment, but the lasting impact of his behaviour may go far beyond the number of matches he was banned.
The match resumed with similar intensity, and QPR were once again down to ten men, in desperate shape and looking at the wrong side of a Bolton lead at Stoke, with City continuing to hammer them and try to find an opening. Cisse was subbed for Armand Traore, one of the brighter signings this season who has not seen as much of the pitch as he deserved since the new manager took over. The versatile defender took Barton's place in the midfield and would soon make a pacy drive up the left wing, where he delivered a perfect cross to a rushing Jamie Mackie. City's defenders failed to properly mark the Scot, who launched himself goal-ward in a dive Ashley Young would be proud of, meeting the ball head-first and delivering a gut punch to City in the 66th minute. For everything Barton epitomises - a spoiled underachiever who wraps himself in controversy - Mackie is the mirror opposite. A quiet worker who's had to earn every minute of professional football he's had through hard work and a tenacious spirit, Mackie is a fan favourite for good reason. He came through with the winner against Liverpool and again at City looked to be the forgotten hero. His goal set the City fan's teeth chattering once more and put an extra bit of fight into the beleaguered defenders.
But all good things must come to an end, and despite their Herculean efforts, this was to be City's day after all. The final flourish that capped off their incredible season was no less impressive, as they finally found ways to overcome the exhausted defenders and Dzeko and Aguero carved their names into Manchester lore forever. The helpless R's did what they could, but the dam had burst and like something out of bad cinema, their collapse in stoppage time handed City the title.
It is an odd position to be in, congratulating a team for finishing last among survivors in the league. Were this a mid-season game, the prospect of taking a lead against City and then imploding in stoppage time to allow two goals would have been a gutting defeat. This is the exception, as Ranger's supporters got the only reward they were seeking from the match - to stay up. They weren't given a chance to take anything from this match, and for good reason. But what they achieved in spite of the odds and in the face of daunting circumstances was no less spectacular. For 90 minutes they withstood the best team in the league and had them on the ropes; a good amount of that time spent with only ten men on the pitch. It is a performance the men can hang their hats on, something to show them that despite all of the ups and downs in this turbulent season, they have positive things to build on and more success can come next year.
We are Premier League, and we will stay that way.
Come on U R'sssss!