LONDON - Manchester City secured a first English title in 44 years in extraordinary circumstances on Sunday, as stoppage-time goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero snatched a 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers (QPR) to deny Manchester United another championship.
In a breathless, tension-wracked finale to one of the most dramatic and unpredictable seasons for decades, United's 1-0 win at Sunderland seemed to have sealed their 20th title but with the final whistle blown at the Stadium of Light, City produced a last twist.
In the second of five minutes of stoppage time, substitute Dzeko rose to head City level against a QPR side who had struck twice after the break despite losing former City midfielder Joey Barton to a red card for elbowing Carlos Tevez.
With just a minute of the season remaining, Aguero roared into the area to dispatch a right-foot shot past the diving Paddy Kenny for his 23rd league goal and the most precious of the 93 amassed by Roberto Mancini's City throughout the campaign.
Both United and City finished on 89 points but City's superior goal difference of eight proved decisive as the English title was settled on goals, rather than points, for only the sixth time and the first since Arsenal edged out Liverpool on the final day of the 1989-90 season.
As United's players trudged off at Sunderland contemplating a first trophy-less season since 2004-05, the biggest party since 1968 kicked off for the long-suffering sky blue half of the city.
"Five minutes from the end I did not think we could win this game. We deserved to win this championship," City manager Roberto Mancini told Sky Sports.
"After 44 years I dedicate this to all our supporters."
Captain and central defensive rock Vincent Kompany, a £6 million bargain in the estimated half a billion pounds invested on players since Abu Dhabi's Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought City in 2008, shared the feelings of most of the 4,000 fans witnessing an afternoon of drama.
"I want to say it is the best moment of my life but if I'm honest then I would say please never again this way," he said.
"We have been so good at home all season but in the second half we just couldn't get through the QPR defence.
"Did I give up? No, I never stopped believing. When Edin Dzeko scored to make it 2-2, it reminded me of our late goals against Tottenham and Sunderland."
Away from the euphoria of Manchester there was heartbreak for Bolton Wanderers who drew 2-2 at Stoke City and were relegated long with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers.
Victory would have earned them another season in the top flight but instead QPR survived to make sure all last season's promoted sides live to fight another campaign amongst the elite.
Arsenal claimed third spot and a Champions League place after coming from 2-1 down to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2 at the Hawthorns.
Tottenham Hotspur sealed fourth place, and a possible Champions League qualifying tie, after beating Fulham 2-0 while Newcastle United finished fifth after losing 3-1 at Everton.
Harry Redknapp's Tottenham face an anxious wait, however, as victory for Chelsea in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich would mean they take a spot in next season's competition and send Tottenham into the Europa League.
With 17 wins and a draw from their previous 18 league matches at their Etihad fortress, the victory City required to seal the title, barring a United goal avalanche at Sunderland, over relegation-haunted QPR had looked a formality.
Then again, the Premier League has delivered twists galore throughout its 20th edition and the climax was to be no exception as the goals thundered in around the country to set a new cumulative season record of 1,066.
News of Wayne Rooney's goal for United at Sunderland added to an already tense atmosphere at City and the relief was palpable when Pablo Zabaleta's shot beat Kenny after 38 minutes despite the keeper getting both gloves on the ball.
It prompted premature celebrations among City fans who watched on in horror after the break as Joleon Lescott's headed howler allowed Djibril Cisse to equalise and Jamie Mackie put QPR ahead either side of Barton's act of madness.
As City laid siege to the QPR goal only to be denied by Kenny's heroics and frantic defending, the headlines look set to gloat over the day City threw it away and former manager Mark Hughes, now in the QPR dugout, got the last laugh.
Some City fans were in tears as they watched the title slip away but in a mind-boggling final act, their team snatched the trophy from United's grasp to finally move out of the shadow of their illustrious neighbours and complete their journey from harmless also-rans to the new powerhouse of English football.