United 1 Divs 0.
Released from the snapping jaws of Gennaro Gattuso, Cristiano Ronaldo and his Manchester United team-mates, you had to hope, even pray, were always going to survive and punish the low-grade, psychopathic resistance to their menace provided by the City defender Michael Ball.
It was almost as if Ball, hitherto not known for the cy
Justice had rarely been imposed more poetically when Ronaldo, in a rare break-out from the torpor bequeathed to him only marginally less oppressively than to most of his team-mates by the meltdown in
This was not the United that had so often illuminated the Premiership season with the sweep and the splendour of both their intentions and their game, but any other result would have been a quite appalling travesty.
Ronaldo's penalty kick was an example of perfect, confidence-filled execution - and a gesture of moral indignation. For once, there could not be the breath of a quibble from any embattled quarter.
Ball's punishment will no doubt be extended officially when the Football Association's disciplinary panel examines the tape; this has to happen, perhaps as inevitably as the failure of Darius Vassell to put away a penalty won by Ball when he sprawled against a Wes Brown who seemed most intent on an avoiding action.
Later Sir Alex Ferguson praised the fortitude and courage of his men, singling out Ronaldo, and again the obligation was to look beyond a soporific match and remember what had gone on before. Mostly it was a season filled with football that more than anything spoke of the manager's enduring belief in a certain kind of football: football of width and adventure and some dauntingly high levels of individual skill.
In this, Ronaldo's winning stroke was certainly appropriate. Whatever you think of some of the wilder estimations of his progress this season, unquestionably we saw here a cameo of his overall contribution: moments of blinding facility, some error, but, transcending everything else, a potency which, for one thing, turned the previously respectable career profile of Michael Ball into a parody of decent professional standards.
United's celebrations had to deepen cruelly the sense of City's plight. When Wayne Rooney, stranded, mostly irrelevantly, on the left side of attack - while Ryan Giggs, who most naturally and effectively occupies that terrain, probed ineffectually in the middle - came off the field a distraught home fan threw a rolled-up blue scarf at his feet. With as much psychological brutality as Ball had applied physically to Ronaldo, Rooney stamped the City colours into the ground with an expression of instant contempt.
Apart from any other measurement, United were a team intent on playing football. City, in the week when their most notable player confirmed his status as an incorrigible source of violent disruption, played a game that, apart from being inept, was mean, charmless and at times utterly despicable. At the finish United and their fans celebrated, as they had every right. For the fair-minded neutral there could be only a wave of relief.
From the Times
Stuart Pearce, battling against the odds to save his job, did not need this. Defeat by the despised neighbours, securing them the Barclays Premiership title, was galling enough for the Manchester City manager, but there was also the ignominy of setting a record for the fewest goals scored at home in a top-flight campaign and a vile stamping incident involving Michael Ball to add to the threatened legal wrangle between two of his players.
Ousmane Dabo has asked Greater Manchester Police to bring charges against Joey Barton after the training-ground altercation on Tuesday that left the former "looking like the elephant man", in his words, and "shaken", according to his manager, while Ball will face FA disciplinary action after stamping on Cristiano Ronaldo in the second minute on Saturday.
Barton's fate will be determined - or settled - when he and his agent attend a meeting with Pearce and the club's board a week tomorrow, with the likelihood that he has played his last game for City, with Everton among those clubs interested in signing him. This might also prove to be Pearce's final home match in charge of City - with the board planning changes even if a takeover by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, does not go through - in which case it will be a low note on which to bow out, with a miserable record of ten goals in 19 home matches this season "beating" the previous top-flight record of 11 held by Woolwich Arsenal in 1913 and Sunderland in 2003.
They would have been spared that embarrassment had Darius Vassell not struck a penalty against the legs of Edwin van der Sar after 81 minutes, after Wes Brown was harshly deemed to have tripped Ball. But, while United were poor, there was a certain poetic justice in the outcome, Ronaldo keeping his nerve from the spot after a foul by Ball, who had earlier escaped without punishment for a deliberate stamp on the chest of the United winger.