FREE KICK: If recent Super Bowls were a jab, last season's BPL finale was an uppercut, as Manchester City scored a pair of injury time goals in defeating Queens Park Rangers to swipe the crown from hated Manchester United. A bowling ball would’ve fit into the mouths of soccer fans during those final frantic minutes at Etihad Stadium, and City’s margin of victory in claiming their first title since 1968 was goal differential the size of a fingernail.
It was not the same this season, as sadly, much like the month of March, the 2012-13 Premiership season went out like a lamb, with the final Sunday having as much potency as a Shirley Temple. Man U had the crown locked up weeks ago and QPR, Reading, and Wigan, the FA Cup champion, were already relegated prior to the start of play, so the only suspense was between Arsenal and Tottenham, with their matches determining who would finish fourth and claim a berth in the Champions League and who would place fifth and drown their sorrows with a pint (and a Europa League invite). Let’s kick start this thing one last time.
NEWCASTLE UNITED vs. ARSENAL: Gunners manager Arsene Wenger welcomed back fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud from suspension for this important encounter, and while Arsenal played with a sense of desperation and purpose, strangely the same could not be said for Newcastle. Alan Pardew's side was thoroughly spanked by Arsenal 7-3 in their first meeting of the season, so their lack of a cutting edge on this occasion was surprising. The Magpies proved to be compact at the back and took a scoreless tie into the locker room at the intermission, but early in the second 45, Arsenal finally struck gold. Theo Walcott's free kick was knocked down inside the box, where Laurent Koscielny outmuscled Fabricio Coloccini to deposit the game's only goal. Walcott had a chance to put the final nail in Newcastle's coffin near the end of regulation, but the midfielder mistakenly went with style over substance and his shot clanged off the post and skipped harmlessly out to sea. The Gunners would not pay the ultimate price for their mistake, however, and they qualify for the Champions League for the 16th straight year, a remarkable achievement. Three months ago, Piers Morgan demanded that Arsenal's management firm give Wenger the boot, but the opinionated talk show host had his vocal chords on mute following this result. Arsenal 1, Newcastle 0
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs. SUNDERLAND: With all matches starting at the same time in the final week, Spurs entered the contest with the belief that a victory would seal the deal towards Champions League qualification. In the end, referee Andre Marriner had as much of a bearing on this match as the 22 players. In a scene reminiscent of the UFC, Gareth Bale was wrestled to the ground in the 26th minute, and Marriner, one of the least experienced arbiters in the Premiership, must've been waiting for Bale to tap out; instead of pointing to the spot, the referee went with a yellow, wrongly carding Bale for diving. Early in the second, Marriner again felt the wrath of the Tottenham faithful for refusing to whistle the Black Cats for a clear handball, and Spurs were hotter than July. Finally, 15 minutes from time, the official made a correct decision when he banished Sunderland's David Vaughan to the locker room after the defender hacked down Aaron Lennon. With increased acreage at his disposal, Bale finally found the back of the net with his customary left-footed fastball to the upper outside corner, a special goal from a special player. On March 3rd, Spurs held a seven point lead on Arsenal, but two months later, they lost out to their London rival by a single point. This is a case when a victory must have seemed like a loss. Spurs 1, Sunderland 0
WEST BROMWICH ALBION vs. MANCHESTER UNITED: Instead of a Hollywood ending to Sir Alex Ferguson's 26-year coaching career, the fans were treated to a scene straight out of the Twilight Zone. How else could one describe the Red Devils allowing three goals in the final nine minutes to snatch a tie from the jaws of victory? The 5-5 stalemate was the first of its' kind in the history of the Premiership, and Romelu Lukaku's hat trick was rendered a mere afterthought as the world continues to turn around Ferguson and Wayne Rooney; once again, number 10 was not featured in Man U's game day lineup, and Rooney reportedly is upset with his set-up role in the team's offense. Hey, I hate paying taxes, but it's something that I'm ordered to do, so I do it. If Ferguson was wavering in his decision to retire, this result likely ended all doubts. WBA 5, Manchester United 5
CHELSEA vs. EVERTON: This was the final game for Everton skipper David Moyes before he sets sail for Old Trafford, where he'll try to fill the large shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson, and it was also the last hurrah for Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez. At one time, Fernando Torres was as unpopular as a dentist on the day after Halloween, but the enigmatic striker would score his first goal since December 23rd to lift the Blues to a third place finish in the standings. Regular readers of this column realize that I'm the captain of the Rafa Benitez fan club. His 2013 Chelsea resume is reminiscent of Bob Lemon's stint as New York Yankees manager in 1978, when Lemon was the third manager hired by George Steinbrenner that season but led the Bronx Bombers to a World Series title despite staring down a 14.5 game deficit in the month of July. Benitez is like the stray dog that wanders onto a front porch during a rain storm looking for a meal, a warm blanket, and a scratch of the belly, but Chelsea's rabid supporters welcomed the pooch with a kick to the curb. Chelsea 2, Everton 1
LIVERPOOL vs. QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Another heartfelt send-off, this time involving Liverpool's Jamie Carragher; the defender was never the fastest or most talented player, but smarts and guile propelled him to a stellar 16-year career. Philippe Coutinho tallied the game's lone goal with a tremendous piledriver from 30 yards out, and that’s that for QPR. Their “get up and go” got up and went a month and a half ago, and next season they'll play in England's Triple-A league. Liverpool 1, QPR 0
MANCHESTER CITY vs. NORWICH CITY: With the firing of Roberto Mancini as head coach, last season's champions checked out of this contest long before kickoff. The game's final goal was also the loveliest, as Jonathan Howson cut through defenders Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, and Pablo Zabaleta much like a lawn motor shreds through grass. Man City will require a heart transplant if they are to compete for a Premiership title next season. Norwich 3, Manchester City 2
SOUTHAMPTON vs. STOKE: Stoke kept tabloid writers worldwide busy during the week with a series of embarrassing charades. Striker Kenwyne Jones discovered a pig’s head in his locker, and in response, a teammate had his windshield shattered into tiny crystals. Much like the conclusion of final exams on a college campus, I can understand having the lads let off some steam, but Stoke brewed enough tea for an entire continent. Luckily for them, they put down their toys at kickoff and put in work for the entire 90 minutes to pick up a draw. Southampton 1, Stoke 1
WEST HAM UNITED vs. READING: This refreshing and breathtaking affair was spotted amongst a mostly stale and lackluster Sunday across the premiership landscape. Reading was already one of three teams headed for demotion, but they refused to wallow in self-pity, climbing off the canvas to negate an early 2-0 West Ham lead before Kevin Nolan netted a pair late in the second half. West Ham 4, Reading 2
SWANSEA vs. FULHAM: After a spell of eight straight winless results, Fulham finally came away from a match with all three points. Bryan Ruiz moonwalked a pass to Alexander Kacaniklic for Fulham's first goal with Dimitar Berbatov authoring the second score, and the London side would add a third to close the books on their first road triumph since New Year's Day. Mark Schwarzer was terrific between the pipes for Fulham, and while a 40-year-old netminder is never in high demand, Martin Jol should go out of his way to ink the veteran to a new deal. Fulham 3, Swansea 0
WIGAN vs. ASTON VILLA: Given Wigan’s week, they could have had a starring role in “The Hangover Part 3” lined up. Just a few days after winning the FA Cup for the first time in the club's history, the little engine that could found themselves on the wrong side of relegation following a loss at Arsenal, but Roberto Martinez's side refused to go down without a fight on their final day in the Premiership. They reluctantly coughed up an equalizing goal in the 60th minute for a 2-2 stalemate, but it's my belief that Wigan won’t be down for very long. Wigan 2, Aston Villa 2
PENALTY KICK: This blog hopes to return at the start of the 2013-14 campaign. I don’t know how many regular readers I’m reaching, nor if you folks are informed and entertained by my writing, but I love watching the Premiership and I can only hope that my passion for the beautiful game shines through on this page. If you have a comment or a question, please address them to me at email@example.com. See you in the fall!