Blackpool and Birmingham relegated

LONDON - The Premier League's final day produced an extraordinary afternoon of nail-biting tension and endlesslly fluctuating fortunes and ended with Blackpool and Birmingham City relegated on Sunday.

Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were in and out of the drop zone all day, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers were left celebrating as they lived to fight another day.

Manchester City confirmed their automatic entry to the group stage of the Champions League by winning 2-0 at Bolton Wanderers to finish third, while Tottenham Hotspur are in the Europa League after they beat Birmingham 2-1 to finish fifth.

Manchester United's title party briefly threatened to fall flat as they fell 2-1 behind to Blackpool but they stormed back to win 4-2 and make it 18 victories and a draw from their 19 home league games and end their record 19th title-winning season on 80 points - the lowest winning total for 10 years.


Chelsea were second on 71 after losing 1-0 to 10-man Everton, for whom Jermaine Beckford scored a superb goal after a length of the pitch run. Man City, who won the FA Cup last week, also finished on 71 and can look forward to a first taste of Champions League football.

Arsenal drew 2-2 at Fulham to stay fourth on 68 after a poor end to the season that brought only two wins from 11 matches.

Tottenham's victory kept them safely in fifth on 62 points, four ahead of Liverpool, who lost 1-0 at Aston Villa.

All the drama was at the bottom, however, where the closest relegation battle in years went right to the final whistles.

Blackpool have thrilled their fans and attracted legions of admirers for their daring approach and it looked to have paid off when goals from Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher had them 2-1 up with 33 minutes to go at Old Trafford.

But awful defending, the other trademark of their first season in the top flight since 1971, was also on show as they gifted Anderson an equaliser and scored an own goal before Michael Owen put the final nail in their coffin.

"After taking the lead, we had started to believe 'we can do this'," said Blackpool boss Ian Holloway.

"You saw the way we played, the chances we created, we've got to take those. But United brought on Wayne Rooney, they're used to winning and we lost out. That aside, we've been absolutely outstanding and it's hard to take."

It was also tough for Birmingham as they followed Norwich City's 1985 "achievement" of being relegated after winning the League Cup.

Behind to a Roman Pavlyuchenko goal, Craig Gardner's 78th-minute equaliser looked enough to keep them up.

However, events elsewhere changed that and as they poured forward looking for the goal they needed the Russian grabbed his second in stoppage-time to confirm their relegation.

"That has been the drama of this season - 39 points would normally be safe and I'm devastated for the fans," said Birmingham manager Alex McLeish. "The quality in the lower half of the table this season has been amazing."

That result meant there was a double party at Molineux with Blackburn and Wolves fans celebrating together as the away side's 3-2 win somehow ensured the safety of both teams.

Wolves looked doomed as they trailed 3-0, dropping into the relegation zone variously on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Jamie O'Hara pulled one back after 73 minutes and with thousands of fans, radios glued to their ears, chanting "we only need one goal" Stephen Hunt delivered it three minutes from time to lift them above Birmingham to safety.

"I'm not sure my ticker can take it but it's brilliant," said Wolves manager Mick McCarthy. "It was a great second-half performance. I know we've lost but they're all winners."

West Ham United, beaten 3-0 at home by Sunderland, finished bottom on 33, with Blackpool and Birmingham both on 39. Wolves escaped on 40 points, with Wigan on 42 and Blackburn 43.

The day's 32 goals set a record for the number scored in a season since the league was cut to 20 teams, the total of 1,063 topping the 1999-2000 tally by three.