Ryan Giggs secured Manchester United’s 17th English league title with the crucial second goal in a 2-0 win at Wigan on the day that he equalled Bobby Charlton’s 758-game all-time appearance record for the club.
Giggs, who can now break the record if he plays in the Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow later this month, entered the fray on Sunday as a 68th minute substitute for South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung.
And the veteran Welsh winger made a telling impact 12 minutes later when he latched onto a Wayne Rooney pass to score his fourth goal of the season.
Chelsea’s draw against Bolton meant United would have been champions anyway, but Giggs’s final flourish put the seal on United’s 10th Premier League crown in sixteen seasons.
Although United began the day in pole position ahead of Chelsea thanks to their superior goal difference, the pressure was on Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to claim all three points against an in-form Wigan.
But United began nervously and their usual fast-flowing football was absent as the home side put the visitors’ goal under most pressure in the early stages.
Goal-scoring chances were at a premium, but while it remained scoreless, the nightmare scenario of a Wigan opener loomed large for United and Jason Koumas, Marcus Bent and defender Emmerson Boyce all went close for Steve Bruce’s team.
Wigan claimed a penalty when Rio Ferdinand appeared to block a long-range shot with his upper arm but referee Steve Bennett waved away their protests.
Bennett then helped to ease United’s nerves in the 32nd minute when Wigan full-back Boyce bundled Rooney over 12 yards from goal. It was more clumsy than malicious, but it was a penalty nonetheless and Cristiano Ronaldo had the chance to put United ahead.
Having missed his last spot-kick, against Barcelona in the Nou Camp last month, doubts may have crept into Ronaldo’s head, but the Portuguese forward coolly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Chris Kirkland for his 31st league goal of the season.
Paul Scholes was fortunate not to be sent off for a second booking when he obstructed Wilson Palacios but, once again, Bennett came to United’s rescue.
Confident that a second goal would secure the points and the title, United upped the tempo early in the second-half as they set about doubling their lead. But while they created some dangerous chances, United could not find the crucial second goal.
Kirkland produced a fingertip save on 49 minutes to tip Ronaldo’s 30-yard free-kick over the crossbar and the England keeper then dived low to his right to keep out a goalbound effort from Rooney.
In between those two chances, Wigan were fortunate not to concede a second penalty when Titus Bramble took the legs of Scholes inside the six yard box. It looked a clear penalty, but Bennett ignored United’s pleas.
Ferguson’s men continued to pour forward, though, and Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez brought another fine save from Kirkland with a shot from 18 yards moments after the stop from Rooney.
As news seeped through of Chelsea’s opener against Bolton, United knew that a Wigan goal would send the title to Stamford Bridge and they endured a nervous moment on 69 minutes when Emile Heskey headed narrowly over the bar from six yards.
But Giggs ended United’s fears ten minutes from time when he escaped the Wigan defence before calmly slotting the ball past Kirkland from 12 yards.
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