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Premiership goes down to the wire
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With one day remaining of the season, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has one hand on his tenth Premiership Trophy with the club. But he knows that, realistically, only a win against thirteenth placed Wigan Athletic, managed by ex-United player Steve Bruce, will be enough to secure the trophy.

Second placed Chelsea, level on points with United, must be fancied to beat a Bolton side that are practically, if not mathematically, safe from relegation after defeating Sunderland on May 3. But with a goal difference deficit of 17, Chelsea's only hope of taking the title is if United stumble at Wigan.

The last time the title was decided on the last day of the season was nine years ago when United pipped Arsenal for the title with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. That year, United went on to complete the astonishing treble of League, FA cup and European cup that earned Sir Alex his knighthood.

With so much depending on the motivation of the opposition in both games Sir Alex has made his feelings known about what he saw as the excessive celebrations of the Bolton squad after their Sunderland victory. Chelsea captain John Terry, for his part, mentioned Steve Bruce's former United affiliation only to express his conviction that Wigan would hand the trophy to Chelsea.

To lose the title on goal difference would be a bitter blow to Chelsea boss Avram Grant, who has floated the idea of a play-off to decide the issue. He has no chance of that, but the teams will of course meet again in Moscow for the Champions League final on 21 May. Should United take the title tomorrow, it will be in large part due to PFA player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo who has netted 30 times so far this season.

At the other end of the table, with Derby County already down, Fulham, Reading or Birmingham are still scrambling for safety. None will have an easy ride. Fulham have tough trip to eighth place Portsmouth, Birmingham host seventh placed Blackburn, while Reading travel to Derby, who will be playing for pride.

The final issue to be decided is the battle for a UEFA cup slot between Everton and Aston Villa. David Moyes' team held fourth position, which qualifies for a Champions League place, for much of the season above local rivals Liverpool. With Martin O'Neill's Villa now snapping at their heels to snatch fifth place, the Blues remain favorites, needing only one point against visitors Newcastle.

(China.org.cn by John Sexton May 10, 2008)

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