Football: 'We have bounced back and proved we are the best team': The championship returns to Old Trafford for the first time in 26 years

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The Independent Online
RON ATKINSON, the Aston Villa manager who came close to winning the title while in charge at Old Trafford, was among the first to congratulate Manchester United on winning the championship.

'What we've now done means they have got their party hats on,' Atkinson said. 'But my congratulations go out to them. It gets the monkey off their back. I just hope Robbo has played enough games to qualify for a medal - that's what will please me most.'

Atkinson was not entirely surprised by his side's lacklustre performance. 'We didn't have any belief in ourselves,' he said. 'I just had the feeling after the Blackburn defeat that they thought it had slipped out of their grasp. The most disappointing thing is that they will now run out easy winners when it has been nip and tuck all season and we wanted to keep it that way right to the end.

'When we sit back, we'll probably think it's been a good year for us. But I don't like not finishing off on a high. The big crowd here has been brilliant to us and we would have liked to have given them something to have taken home with them. All credit to Oldham. They came and battled, they scrapped but it was nothing we did not expect.'

Dean Saunders, the striker Atkinson signed from Liverpool in the autumn, said: 'We thought at one stage we had it in the bag but in the end perhaps the big games caught up on us.'

Nick Henry, scorer of yesterday's crucial goal, said: 'I've got the goal that won the championship and I'm not happy - I'm a Liverpool fan. It might not be the best goal I've ever scored but it's certainly the most important. We had to win and when Villa had all those chances and none went in, we knew they weren't going to score.'

At Old Trafford the atmosphere was jubilant. Mark Hughes, the United striker, said: 'It was a great disappointment last year and some people may have thought there would be a reaction. But we have bounced back and proved that we are the best team.'

George Best, a member of the last United team to take the title, said: 'It is fabulous for the supporters who have stuck by them all this time. Manchester United are one of the biggest names in football and that they have not won it for so long is phenomenal. But now they have done it and the icing on the cake is they are in the European Cup again. It's been a long time since 1968. And the future looks terrific. They have a great crop of youngsters coming through now.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- UNITED'S LONG MARCH ----------------------------------------------------------------- Manchester United have battled through 25 seasons - struggling in the wake of eight different League champions - since they last secured the coveted title in 1967. P W D L F A Pts 1967 (C) Man Utd 42 24 12 6 84 45 60 (2) Nottm F 42 23 10 9 64 41 56 1968 (C) Man City 42 26 6 10 86 43 58 (2) Man Utd 42 24 8 10 89 55 56 1969 (C) Leeds Utd 42 27 13 2 66 26 67 (11) Man Utd 42 15 12 15 57 53 42 1970 (C) Everton 42 29 8 5 72 34 66 (8) Man Utd 42 14 17 11 66 61 45 1971 (C) Arsenal 42 29 7 6 71 29 65 (8) Man Utd 42 16 11 15 65 66 43 1972 (C) Derby C 42 24 10 8 69 33 58 (8) Man Utd 42 19 10 13 69 61 48 1973 (C) Liverpool 42 24 10 6 72 42 60 (18) Man Utd 42 12 13 17 44 60 37 1974 (C) Leeds Utd 42 24 14 4 66 31 62 (21)* Man Utd 42 10 12 20 38 48 36 * Relegated 1975 (C)* Man Utd 42 26 9 7 66 30 61 (2) Aston Villa 42 25 8 9 69 32 58 *Second Division 1976 (C) Liverpool 42 23 14 5 66 31 60 (3) Man Utd 42 23 10 9 68 42 56 1977 (C) Liverpool 42 23 11 8 62 33 57 (6) Man Utd 42 18 11 13 71 62 47 1978 (C) Nottm F 42 25 14 3 69 24 64 (10) Man Utd 42 16 10 16 67 63 42 1979 (C) Liverpool 42 30 8 4 85 16 68 (9) Man Utd 42 15 15 12 60 63 45 1980 (C) Liverpool 42 25 10 7 81 30 60 (2) Man Utd 42 24 10 8 65 35 58 1981 (C) Aston Villa 42 26 8 8 72 40 60 (8) Man Utd 42 15 18 9 51 36 48 1982 (C) Liverpool* 42 26 9 7 80 32 87 (3) Man Utd 42 22 12 8 59 29 83 *Three points for a win introduced 1983 (C) Liverpool 42 24 10 8 87 37 82 (3) Man Utd 42 19 13 8 56 38 70 1984 (C) Liverpool 42 22 14 6 73 32 80 (4) Man Utd 42 20 14 8 76 45 74 1985 (C) Everton 42 28 6 8 88 43 90 (4) Man Utd 42 22 10 10 77 47 76 1986 (C) Liverpool 42 26 10 6 89 37 88 (4) Man Utd 42 22 10 10 70 36 76 1987 (C) Everton 42 26 8 8 76 31 86 (11) Man Utd 42 14 14 14 52 45 56 1988 (C) Liverpool 40 26 12 2 87 24 90 (2) Man Utd 40 23 12 5 71 38 81 1989 (C) Arsenal 38 22 10 6 73 36 76 (11) Man Utd 38 13 12 13 45 35 51 1990 (C) Liverpool 38 23 10 5 78 37 79 (13) Man Utd 38 13 9 16 46 47 48 1991 (C) Arsenal 38 24 13 1 74 18 83 (6) Man Utd 38 16 12 10 58 45 59 1992 (C) Leeds Utd 42 22 16 4 74 37 82 (2) Man Utd 42 21 15 6 63 33 78 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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