Top 10 Premier League stories of the season12/05/2012 - 13:58:52
With the Barclays Premier League season coming to an end, here are 10 of the top stories of the campaign.
Manchester title race
Although big-spending Manchester City were expected to mount a challenge for their neighbours United’s title this season, few could have anticipated the enthralling battle that ensued.
City were scoring goals for fun at first - including six at Old Trafford – and seemed so secure in top spot that Carlos Tevez’s self-imposed exile appeared a complete irrelevance, but United subsequently reeled them in before going eight points clear in April.
City - with Tevez back – then rallied, won the derby at the Etihad Stadium and went into the final day ahead of their local rivals by goal difference alone.
Roy Hodgon's redemption
Hotly tipped as a potential candidate beforehand, Roy Hodgson’s chances of managing England had appeared to dissipate after his brief and unhappy spell at Liverpool in 2010-11, but he was soon installed as boss at West Brom, where he did an impressive job that carried on this season.
When Fabio Capello resigned in February, Harry Redknapp was widely regarded as the favourite to succeed the Italian, but it was Hodgson who the Football Association approached about leading the Three Lions and he was subsequently unveiled as England’s new manager on May 1, completing a remarkable turnaround for the 64-year-old.
While Hodgson’s star was on the rise, the club who had dismissed him endured a tough time of it this season for various reasons.
Victory in the Carling Cup and a run to the FA Cup final could not hide Liverpool’s poor results in the league, particularly at Anfield, where Kenny Dalglish’s men managed to take maximum points on only six occasions.
They also had to contend with major controversy surrounding their striker Luis Suarez, who served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and appeared to refuse to shake the defender’s hand before a game at Old Trafford.
AVB to RDM at Chelsea
Chelsea were another high-profile outfit to experience plenty of problems this term, including a race row of their own involving captain John Terry and QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
In terms of their league position, the Blues struggled to keep a grip on a top-four spot and in March, amid talk of dressing room unrest, manager Andre Villas-Boas – brought in pre-season to renovate the ageing squad at Stamford Bridge – was sacked.
In stepped Roberto di Matteo, who delivered the FA Cup but only a sixth-placed finish – yet may still secure Champions League football, having guided the Londoners to the final of this year’s competition.
One of the clubs making it difficult for Chelsea to get into the top four were Newcastle, who – to the surprise of virtually everyone – emerged as Champions League contenders.
Expectation levels on Tyneside had been less than sky-high before the campaign got under way, with the likes of Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique leaving the Magpies over the summer and Andy Carroll having already departed.
The players manager Alan Pardew brought in, though, proved masterstrokes, with French midfielder Yohan Cabaye and Senegalese strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse rapidly developing into Toon icons as the team soared.
High-flying Swans and Canaries
Newly-promoted sides have been taking on the Premier League with commendable fearlessness in recent years and Swansea and Norwich were prime examples this season.
Utilising many of the same players that had got them up and with no real big-name stars in either team, both Brendan Rodgers’ Swans and Paul Lambert’s Canaries made a comfortable adjustment to top-flight life.
Major scalps were claimed, severe hammerings were generally avoided and a healthy distance was kept from the relegation dogfight at the bottom end of the table as the two managers enhanced their growing reputations.
Turmoil at Blackburn
While Swansea and Norwich flourished in their new environment, experienced Premier League campaigners Blackburn looked like novices in a disastrous season which culminated in their relegation.
Certainly many Rovers fans felt the club’s owners Venky’s and manager Steve Kean did not know what they were doing and let them know with a series of organised protests which made for an often-poisonous atmosphere at Ewood Park.
Despite the calls for him to be sacked and some dire results, Kean remained in charge and Blackburn were condemned to the drop in their penultimate game, a 1-0 home defeat to Wigan.
If Blackburn were the victims of prolonged mismanagement this term, it seems in hindsight as if Wolves’ relegation hinged on a single bad decision.
Wanderers were struggling under Mick McCarthy when they suffered a humiliating 5-1 derby defeat at home to West Brom in February, and the next day the Yorkshireman was sacked.
A search for the man to keep the club up got under way, but it was McCarthy’s assistant Terry Connor – never a manager before – who was eventually appointed boss until the end of the season, and after a run of eight defeats in 10 games, rock-bottom Wolves were down.
Wigan's late surge
Wigan, survivors on the final day of the 2010-11 season, looked destined for the npower Championship for much of this term but managed to preserve their top-flight status thanks to a superb run of form in the last few months of the campaign.
At the end of January the Latics were propping up the division, but they started digging out results and then shocked everybody by pulling off victories over Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle.
Their win at Blackburn on May 7, their sixth in eight matches, confirmed their safety as Roberto Martinez showed how faith in a manager can be rewarded.
The feel-good story of a season which saw considerable tragedy – not least the death of Wales manager Gary Speed – was the incredible recovery made by Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba following his on-pitch cardiac arrest in an FA Cup tie against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in March.
Muamba’s heart took 78 minutes to start working again properly but his subsequent progress amazed doctors and after being discharged from the London Chest Hospital almost exactly a month on from the incident, the 24-year-old made an emotional return to the Reebok Stadium in early May to watch his side take on Spurs in a league match.
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