THERE was sympathy for the (Red) devil from Martin O’Neill after the most dramatic denouement to a Premier League season in the format’s 20-year history robbed Sir Alex Ferguson of what would have been his 13th Premier League title yesterday.
Manchester City’s two injury-time goals broke the hearts of Manchester United fans who had been waiting in expectation of the final whistle at the Etihad confirming the Reds had held on to their crown.
And as news filtered through of City’s astonishing last-gasp victory, O’Neill could not only sympathise, but empathise, with his opposite number – having himself lost a league title on goal difference while manager of Celtic.
“It’s just about the most harrowing end you can have to a season,” he confided.
“Those last couple of minutes in the match took me back a few years to that Celtic season.
“Afterwards, your thoughts go straight to where you might have picked up those extra goals, or some of the substitutions you made in games where you were looking safe but ended up conceding.
“It’s a horrible feeling.”
The Black Cats’ boss has no doubts, though, that Ferguson, the most successful manager in English club history, will bounce back.
“He’ll be bitterly disappointed because this would have been a sensational way for him to win the championship,” mused O’Neill.
“He’s got so many trophies he’s probably lost count – but it will certainly hurt that he hasn’t got this one, especially in the way it unfolded.
“I shook hands with him at the end of the game and, at that point, they were looking like champions – I think it was still 2-2 at City – and then it happened, the news came in.
“It was cruel on him and United, but he’ll use it to motivate himself more over the summer – he’ll be motivated by the desire not to let City become dominant now they’ve won the title.”
Sunderland themselves took four points from a possible six off City this season – winning 1-0 at the Stadium of Light and being unlucky not to take all three in the 3-3 draw at the Etihad.
But O’Neill believes Roberto Mancini’s men are worthy champions after a day of drama.
“It was incredible, really,” he said. “I accept the fact we were there very much as a sideshow.
“It was all about Man United and about us trying to give them a good game.
“I’m sure Man City were hoping we would do them a favour, but, as it turned out, they were able to do it on their own.
“It is so close between the two Manchester teams and there hasn’t been much to choose from them over the course of the season.
“But Man City have a very strong squad and have won the title.
“That’s it. Well done them.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s by 20 points or by goal difference – if you finish top of the pile, you are the champions.”