Fourth title in five crowns United's day off

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The Independent Online
Two seasons ago Manchester United lost the championship at Upton Park when they were held to a draw by West Ham. Last night Newcastle United suffered the same fate and, with Liverpool losing to Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, Alex Ferguson's team claimed their fourth title in five years without even playing.

United's manager chose not to watch last night's events on television, although he had thought it might be the day his team would win the championship.

"I had a feeling it was two difficult games for Liverpool and Newcastle," he said. "West Ham are fighting for survival and you never get an easy game against Wimbledon. I thought one of them [Liverpool and Newcastle] would have some damage done to them, but the two of them is fantastic for us."

Ferguson said that this year's success was even sweeter than his previous three title wins at United. "It does get better because you have to live up to expectations and of course as each season comes along the demands get greater," he said.

"The great thing about it is that we have had a Champions' League campaign to contend with and we have coped with that very well and they have managed to maintain the challenge in the League, which is not easy.It has given me great pride."

Sir Bobby Charlton, now a director at Old Trafford, hailed United's "great achievement", pointing out that standards in the Premiership had been rising. "Last year it was only Newcastle and this year it's been four or five teams that have been in the hunt right up until the end," he said.

Kenny Dalglish, the Newcastle manager, said: "It's a fantastic achievement - they have only failed to win the title once since the Premiership began. They have done it because they are the best team. All credit to Alex Ferguson and his players."

Newcastle, held to a goalless draw by West Ham last night, go to Old Trafford tomorrow still pursuing second place and with it a place in next season's Champions' League. Liverpool, beaten 2-1 by Wimbledon, are also still in contention, as are Arsenal.

West Ham have to visit Old Trafford on Sunday and despite the optimism of their striker John Hartson - "I think we're safe now, we can go to Manchester and enjoy it," he said after last night's match" - the Hammers are not secure yet. If Middlesbrough win tomorrow at Blackburn, West Ham will still need at least a point, although it would take six further results to go the wrong way for them to be relegated.

West Ham will hope Middlesbrough lose at Blackburn, as the 1995 result is not the only one Manchester United may remember: three years earlier, with West Ham already relegated, the London side put in what Ferguson called an "obscene" effort to beat Manchester United in a game which proved to be a crucial factor in Leeds pinching the title from Old Trafford.

"We may have to go there and get another good result like this one," Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, said last night. "The title was very open this year. Manchester United have not been in fantastic form, but no one has been able to take advantage. Liverpool have thrown it away with results like losing at home to Coventry. The so-called bottom teams can get results. It is that sort of League. A lot of money has been spent and it is very tight."

All the more credit then to Manchester United. Their domination has been matched only by Liverpool in the late 70s and early 80s since the war. Clubs like Newcastle and Liverpool have spent large sums of money but without achieving the balance of craft and graft that Ferguson has created.

Having been without a championship for 27 seasons before winning in 1992- 93, United's continued supremacy is all the more laudable. The only downside is that none of their modern championships have been won on the pitch at Old Trafford. However, their many supporters can probably live with that this morning.

Simply the best, page 26


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