United are champions once again

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MANCHESTER UNITED retained England's football championship without kicking a ball last night as their closest pursuers, Blackburn Rovers, lost 2-1 at Coventry City.

The triumph came a year to the day after United won the title for the first time in 26 years.

'When you are the defending team you are there to be shot at and everyone wants to beat you,' United's captain, Steve Bruce, said. 'It's a real thrill and a fantastic achievement for everybody at the club.'

Coventry's victory, which came courtesy of two goals from Julian Darby, also brought toasts from Chelsea, United's opponents in the Cup final on 14 May. Win or lose at Wembley, the Londoners will now be England's representatives in the European Cup-Winners' Cup next season, since United will play in the European Cup.

Kenny Dalglish, the manager of Blackburn, who will play in the Uefa Cup next season, their first foray into European competition, offered his congratulations to Alex Ferguson, his opposite number at Old Trafford. 'We had the opportunity to go top on a couple of occasions,' Dalglish said, 'but we lost, so it's Manchester United's title and well done to them.'

Manchester United had further good news when Peter Schmeichel, their goalkeeper who tore ankle ligaments in a match on Sunday, revealed after seeing a specialist in Copenhagen that he may take part in the Cup final. 'You can play with torn ligaments with heavy strapping, so hopefully I will play,' he said.