Premier League – Giggs strike caps United triumph

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Manchester United sealed their 10th Premier League title in 16 years with a 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic.

FOOTBALL; Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United, with Premier League trophy - 0

On the day he equalled Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 758 first-team appearances, Ryan Giggs scored the second goal late on to secure a nervous victory.

Cristiano Ronaldo gave United a first-half lead with a disputed penalty – his 31st league goal of the season.

Bolton’s injury-time equaliser against Chelsea meant United ended with a two-point cushion, but the result at Stamford Bridge was rendered irrelevant thanks to the Reds’ vastly superior goal difference.

United were the division’s top scorers and finished with the best defensive record. Few neutrals – if such people exist – would deny they merited their championship.

Ronaldo‘s 31 goals match the best-ever haul for a 38-game domestic season, with Alan Shearer having set that mark for Blackburn Rovers in 1995/96.

Chelsea proved no less efficient at achieving results, but their inability to produce the fantasy football demanded by Roman Abramovich eventually proved fatal to their title hopes – and could also sound the death knell for Avram Grant’s reign as manager.

They will regroup ahead of the Champions League final – against United – in Moscow in 10 days’ time.

Any talk of a summer stroll in the park for United proved well wide of the mark. Inexperienced left-back Maynor Figueroa was the only non-regular in the Wigan first team while persistent drizzle gradually turned the pitch into a bog.

Wigan tore into their opponents, with strikers Emile Heskey and Marcus Bent providing a muscular, awkward threat up front.

The enigmatic Jason Koumas also started, and soon set about peppering Edwin van der Sar‘s goal with 30-yard shots.

Sir Alex Ferguson had complained that United would have been champions weeks ago but for bad luck with injuries and refereeing decisions – particularly in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea last month.

But his side certainly got the benefit of Steve Bennett’s doubt in a controversial first half.

On 22 minutes Rio Ferdinand blocked a Jason Koumas shot with his upper arm but Bennett said ‘no penalty’.

Ten minutes later he had little hesitation in pointing to the spot when Emmerson Boyce brought down Wayne Rooney as the ball pinballed around the Wigan box.

His challenge was more clumsy than malicious, but Ronaldo punished him with a cool spot-kick, sending Chris Kirkland the wrong way and slotting low into the right side of the net.

Bennett found himself in the thick of things on 36 minutes when Paul Scholes shoulder-barged Wilson Palacios.

The midfielder had already been booked for a tackle from behind on Palacios and had the game been less important or the player less illustrious, Bennett may well have flashed the red card. But he kept his cards in his pocket.

The second half saw United playing impossibly nervy football, particularly after news came through that Chelsea were beating Bolton.

Chris Kirkland kept Wigan in the game with brilliant saves to deny Rooney – a surprise starter following his hip injury – Carlos Tevez and Ronaldo.

Meanwhile Scholes was denied what looked a clear penalty when Bramble tripped him with a rash sliding tackle.

At the other end Heskey headed narrowly over but Wigan proved unable to capitalise on their opponents’ jitters.

It was all over 10 minutes from time when Giggs, a man who has played a part in all of Ferguson’s title-winning sides, found himself in acres of space at the edge of the penalty area.

Rooney found him with a simple pass, and the Welshman located the corner of the net. Cue wild celebrations from the away fans.

At 34, Giggs’s skills might be on the wane, but he still has an eye for the big occasion and capped off a glorious season in fitting fashion.

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