MANCHESTER, England – City started the day 90 minutes from the title. They needed all of it and more.
Manchester City ended 44 years of heartbreak and futility thanks to Sergio Aguero's stoppage time winner that secured the Premier League title in the dying seconds of the season. It would cap a breathless day that saw City go from losers to winners in an amazing three minutes.
The Citizens were five stoppage time minutes from another final day collapse, losing 2-1 to ten man Queens Park Rangers 2-2 and seemingly allowing their arch-rivals Manchester United to snatch their 20th Premier League title on the final day of the season.
Instead, Edin Dzeko headed in a corner in the second minute of stoppage time, then Kun Aguero rolled into the penalty area uncontested to rip a rocket past Patrick Kenny. It was a goal befitting of Aguero's $50m price tag - and it may prove to be priceless.
Finally, Manchester is painted Blue.
The mood was tense from kickoff, with thousands of sky-blue clad fans ready to celebrate - but wary of doing so. The anticipation of the title collided with the knowledge that City, for so long, had been better known for failure than silverware, and more remarkable for collapse than championships. Pre-game you could hear the anxiety in fans' voices - they were daring to dream, but there was a real fear that once again, their Citizens would fall at the finish line.
That fear looked to be justified as a nervous City side was unable to figure out QPR's defense and were reduced to picking at scraps. QPR simply parked the bus early on, forcing City to try and pick them apart. City responded with a performance that lacked the crispness and fluidity we have come to expect. Were the expectations smothering? For ninety minutes, the answer seemed to be yes.
It started with promise, as Pablo Zabaleta, slipped through by Yaya Toure, would break the deadlock in the 39th minute and send a wave of relief and joy through the Etihad. The Argentine shot blew through Kenny's gloves and rightly should have been held; instead it looped up and over, off the post and into the net.
But the joy would be short-lived. Yaya would have to come off with a knee injury and without their talisman, City looked very short of both ideas up front and defensive steel in the back.
And right after the break disaster struck. A hopeful ball out of the back was inexplicably headed back towards his own net by Joleon Lescott, allowing the fleet Djibril Cisse to run on uncontested towards Joe Hart and fire low and hard into the net. Game tied, and game on.
It seemed that Joey Barton's red card with 35 minutes left to play would change the complexion of the game, after the famously volatile midfielder elbowed Carlos Tevez and then kicked Aguero from behind before he was hauled off. Instead, it allowed QPR to seize the lead.
Armand Traore, brought in to reinforce the defense in Barton's absence, loped down the left flank to elude the entire City back line, and his cross was well-met by Jamie Mackie, who smartly headed it into the back of the net.
The game seemed over. Heads drooped and the air at the Etihad was dark. City had been here so many times before, losing games on the final day with regularity and allowing their red neighbors to the west to lay claim to trophy after trophy while their case remained bare.
Edin Dzeko's 92nd minute header changed that, as he met a corner to thrash the ball in and spark hope. Two minutes later, Kun Aguero would score the winner. His teammates pounced on him, burying him in a pile in a corner. Mike Dean blew the whistle, the long-suffering fans stormed the field and as the flares went off, even the stewards stood back.
In the sweetest moment of all, Etihad reset their win clock, so long stuck at "44 years," to "00."
It is City's day at long last.