Drink it in. Soak it up. Bellow it from the rooftops. Manchester United are the champions of England, now more than anyone. More than ever, United rule all others in the land.
Wayne Rooney’s second-half penalty secured the title-winning point in a hard-fought encounter with Blackburn at Ewood Park, but even when it comes to making history, the Reds insist on going about it the hard way.
A 19th domestic crown was only sealed by Rooney’s 73rd minute spot-kick after Brett Emerton had fired Rovers ahead, and the hosts might have established a two-goal lead at Ewood Park when Martin Olsson headed against Tomasz Kuszczak’s post.
United had started the afternoon brightly. As the prospect of becoming champions dangled before them, the visitors started with purpose; popping passes around and bossing possession. Less than four minutes had passed when the first chance arrived, but Nani could only thump a header against Paul Robinson’s crossbar from Rooney’s tantalising cross.
Blackburn seldom held the ball inside the first 15 minutes, but they might have taken the lead when Christopher Samba sliced wastefully over the bar from Junior Hoilett’s pull-back, and then did forge ahead in sloppy circumstances through Emerton.
The Australian’s chip was touched away by Kuszczak, but Olsson retrieved the ball before it crossed the byline, exchanged passes with Hoilett and picked out Emerton at the back post to steer a fine finish back across goal.
Though the Darwen End had resounded with a choral onslaught from the travelling support, nerves were suddenly jangling. The hosts, in stark contrast, were galvanised. Steve Kean’s side charged into challenges, doubled up on United’s wingers and packed the penalty area, with young Phil Jones in excellent form alongside Samba.
Carving open the Rovers defence was no easy task. Chicharito swivelled and fired in a left-footed effort which Robinson plunged to turn around the post, but the pepped-up hosts hit back when Olsson skewed a volley wide from Michel Salgado’s deep cross. United were also given a let-off when Kuszczak’s clearance was charged down by Hoilett and ricocheted wide.
The Reds should have nabbed a leveller just before the interval after excellent interplay by Rooney and Chicharito. As the Mexican bore down on goal he was robbed by a fine sliding challenge from Phil Jones, but Nani steered the inviting loose ball over the crossbar.
The opening 15 minutes of the second period continued in a finely-balanced fashion. Blackburn were keen to pressure Kuszczak with high balls, while United’s approach play carried plenty of menace, without a telling final ball. Nani’s powerful shot was deflected wide by Samba and Jones blocked Ryan Giggs’ close-range effort, before Paul Scholes was introduced at the expense of Fabio.
That re-jig meant another shift for Valencia as an auxiliary right-back, and the Ecuadorian was quickly under pressure as Olsson rose to meet Emerton’s cross, but the Norwegian could only nod against Kuszczak’s post from close range.
Having glanced over the precipice, United were suddenly hauled back from the brink as Chicharito raced onto Giggs’ pass, touched the ball past Robinson and tumbled under the goalkeeper’s challenge. Dogged by vehement implorations from both sides, referee Phil Dowd sought the opinion of his linesman before awarding the spot-kick.
Despite the epic delay prompted by the hosts’ protests, Rooney held his nerve and crashed an unstoppable penalty high into Robinson’s right-hand corner to prompt scenes of utter delirium in the Darwen End.
“We shall not be moved,” cried the 8,000 travelling supporters, and their defiance might have risen further when Rooney whipped in a magnificent right-wing cross which begged to be converted, but Nani could only divert the ball just off-target.
A point was enough for United, and a share of the spoils also suited the hosts, who continue to look over their shoulder as an engaging relegation battle rages on. With a draw mutually beneficial, the game descended into a game of keep-ball for the final 15 minutes.
That time, plus three added minutes, zipped by before referee Dowd signalled the end of the game and the title race, and marked history for the now 19-times champions. The message was perfectly summed up by a banner unfurled in the away support which simply read: “Top of the perch”. Rarely has the view looked so good.