Tears of triumph for Manchester City
At Etihad Stadium
The group of Manchester City fans standing on Joe Mercer Way were smiling but silent. It was as if they could not find the words to articulate what they had just witnessed.
They were not alone.
Manchester City's history suggested they might put their supporters through late dramas before ending a 44-year wait to be crowned champions.
Nothing, however, could have prepared anyone for this as City threatened to collapse in a manner that would have haunted them forever before winning the Premier League just as dramatically as they had threatened to lose it.
With City, needing to beat Queen's Park Rangers to lift the title, trailing 2-1 as five minutes of stoppage time began, some tearful fans upped and left rather than experience the suffering they feared referee Mike Dean's final whistle would bring them as it looked like the crown would remain at Manchester United as they beat Sunderland.
They will harbour regrets of a different kind after missing the moments that will be carved into Manchester City's history forever.
For those who stayed, tears of despair had been replaced by tears of triumph in the space of two minutes of the most enthralling, nerve-shredding theatre produced in the Premier League's 20 seasons.
Manchester City lift the Premier League trophy
Michael Thomas's pre-Premier League goal that won Arsenal the title at Liverpool in 1989 was dramatic enough. This was something else. It was a victory plucked from the depths of improbability, not just on Sunday but from the moment in early April when defeat at Emirates Stadium left City trailing United by eight points.
Edin Dzeko headed City level after 92 minutes and then, with QPR goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock racing around his technical area in celebration of their survival after confirming Stoke City had held Bolton, redemption arrived for the club that has spent so long in the shadow of their neighbours.
Sergio Aguero broke into the QPR area and showed commendable composure and sense of purpose amid the tumult to fire past keeper Paddy Kenny. In that moment the title was won, a cloud lifted.
The scenes that followed bordered on hysteria as the Argentine swirled his shirt before being submerged by team-mates, many of whom were also in tears according to City's great inspiration, captain Vincent Kompany.
Mancini had long since lost his cool, raging at his players consistently from the sidelines in those excruciating final phases when they could not breach QPR's barrier. Now he took off, accompanied by substitutes and assorted backroom staff including as Brian Kidd and David Platt, in undiluted ecstasy.
It was as if a valve had been opened to release the years of suffering for City and for that famously good-natured support who have been sustained through the lean years by some of the game's finest dark humour.
Those final seconds before the triumph was confirmed passed in a blur for just about everybody inside the Etihad. City were champions, QPR were safe - everyone a winner.
City once helped themselves win promotion to the First Division with two late, late goals from Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov in a Wembley play-off with Gillingham in 1999.
The instant feeling here was that this was their Nou Camp moment, on a scale of importance to this particular club that could be compared with Manchester United's last-gasp comeback to win the Champions League against Bayern Munich in the same year.
It was an afternoon fuelled by the best and worst of football's emotions, the latter illustrated by the behaviour of Joey Barton, sent off for clashing with Carlos Tevez but not shy of giving Aguero a sly kick from behind on the way off for good measure.
Luckily for Barton, he did not cost QPR their Premier League status but manager Mark Hughes may not wish to take the risk with this flawed personality next season.
The best was reserved for City, nourished by the petrodollars pumped into the club by their Abu Dhabi owners. Sheikh Mansour was not tempted to travel for the day he will have envisaged in his master plans when City were renewed by his investment in 2008 but he will surely have watched at home with great satisfaction.
The cynics will suggest this was the day City proved the Premier League was something money could buy, but the outpouring of emotion on the pitch and in the stands when Aguero's shot hit the back of Kenny's net was the product of the old glory of the game not financial rewards, as captain Kompany was keen to point out.
The great old City names were there to share in the triumph, with their last title-winning captain Tony Book and the great champion of all the club's causes Mike Summerbee bringing the trophy on for a tumultuous presentation ceremony with those two greats Francis Lee and Colin Bell in close attendance.
In so many ways this is a new club but a conscious effort is made to keep in touch with its past - the mantle of champions bring a fresh start for City because history and expectation was also altered in the time it took Aguero to score that landmark goal.
The footballing landscape in Manchester and beyond has changed. Mancini, vindicated with the FA Cup last year and the title this, will now look for more improvements next season. The Champions League is there to be conquered, or at least handled more effectively than their uncertain first steps this season.
The balance of power has shifted in Manchester but not by much because United - with a squad not regarded as vintage quality - still came within two minutes of title number 20 and the decisive margin came down to goal difference.
But the building blocks so effectively put in place by Mancini, and lest we forget also the man in the nearby dug-out yesterday Mark Hughes, will now be strengthened by the confidence of champions.
Joe Hart is an outstanding keeper, Kompany arguably the Premier League's finest central defender while Yaya Toure is the supreme combination of footballer and athlete. It was no coincidence City were far less impressive after he went off injured.
And in attack, irrespective of what may happen next with Tevez, City can count on the tireless and potent Aguero and the elegance of David Silva.
The worry for United and the rest of the Premier League is that those events in the final minutes will provide new impetus for City. It is a challenge, however, that Sir Alex Ferguson insists he and his club are ready to meet.
That is for another day. It will take City some time to come down from the emotional high of this victory, not least because of the fashion in which it was achieved.
"We have changed the history of this club," said Mancini, draped in the Italian flag and sipping a well-deserved glass of champagne.
The new era begins on Monday. If you are going to end a 44-year wait for a title then you might as well make it spectacular - and it does not get much more spectacular than that which was seen on Sunday.