Four-goal United win proves in vain
Manchester United missed out on a fourth successive Premier League title despite a 4-0 home win over Stoke, as Chelsea hammered Wigan 8-0. United needed to beat the Potters at Old Trafford on Sunday and hope that Wigan got at least a point at Stamford Bridge, but the Blues were in no mood to lie down and put poor Wigan to the sword to take the trophy. Wayne Rooney also sparked a World Cup scare when he walked out of United's season 13 minutes from time. Hindered by groin and ankle problems over the final month of the campaign and with hopes of landing either the Premier League title or the Golden Boot wrecked by Chelsea's avalanche of goals, Rooney signalled to the bench he could not continue as his side strolled to victory against Stoke. It looked like a recurrence of his groin problem, and Fabio Capello can only hope Rooney took a sensible precaution by coming off in a dead match rather than risk further damage. Certainly it was a disappointing way for Rooney to end his domestic commitments. Indeed, rarely can a four-goal win, achieved through Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, a Danny Higginbotham own goal and Park Ji-sung, been greeted in such a downbeat manner. There was plenty of noise at the end, although that was mainly due to the number of whistles being blown in protest at the Glazer family's continued ownership. United strode out at Old Trafford hoping for a miracle, whilst being realistic enough to understand dreams of this magnitude simply do not come true. By the time Giggs had turned home his 155th Red Devils goal, the title had been lost. Where it all went wrong is not easy to pinpoint. Losing seven games is normally an insurmountable handicap but in a switchback season such as this one, it was not necessarily so. The defeats to Chelsea did leave United with a problem, especially the second one, which, as it was followed immediately by a draw at Blackburn, proved pretty terminal. Defensive injuries before Christmas undoubtedly played a major part too. Certainly, 48 points from a possible 60 after Santa Claus squeezed down the chimney was not a bad effort and leaves Ferguson to express optimism that United will be a major force next season. Indeed, as four titles on the trot had never been done before, the Red Devils deserve some credit for taking their challenge right down to the last day, even if it looks like a chance missed. They had no intention of letting the little inconvenience of missing out on the major prize affect their victory charge. From the first whistle, Ferguson's team played with purpose and intent. Nani in particular, a revelation in the second-half of the season, took the fight straight to Stoke, who never got on the ball long enough to force themselves on their opponents, as they like to do. Dimitar Berbatov's future continues to be debated and the Bulgarian seemed keen to round off with a goal. Andy Wilkinson blocked a goalbound effort from the Bulgarian, who then headed a Nani left-wing cross over before the Portugal winger curled over a brilliant effort from the right which Berbatov thundered against the bar. Rooney was not getting many opportunities himself and on the one occasion he was offered a sight of goal before half-time, Robert Huth stuck out a long leg to deny him. By that point, United had broken their deadlock. Fletcher has further enhanced his reputation this season, earning a well-deserved place in the PFA Premier League team of the year. The one aspect he could do with improving is his goalscoring. He has the ability, judging by the neat way he turned onto the loose ball and smacked it into the net from a yard after Nemanja Vidic's header had struck first Rooney, then Dean Whitehead. Giggs has never been prolific, but he is the only person to score in every season since the Premier League was launched in 1992. He will get a chance to extend that run next term, having signed another one-year extension. Despite his years, he remains a hungry player and snaffled his 155th United goal with relish after Berbatov's low cross had fallen perfectly for him. United's attitude was admirable as Stoke's supporters rubbed in every Chelsea goal with a loud cheer of celebration. After berating Nani for a poor cross, Rooney delivered the low effort that Higginbotham turned into his own net as he desperately tried to prevent a United player putting in there; Nani and Berbatov queuing up to finish. Rooney made his exit later on to spark the game's major talking point. His replacement, Park, rounded off the scoring when he met Giggs' corner with a firm diving header.
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