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It's up for grabs now: The 10 tightest title races in English football history

It's up for grabs now: The 10 tightest title races in English football history

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The thrilling battle for Premier League supremacy between Manchester’s two giants goes into overdrive on Monday - but there have been several other dramatic photo finishes

The eagerly anticipated Manchester derby certain to have a major bearing on who out of Manchester City or Manchester United will finish this season as Premier League champions.

Ahead of the crunch derby fixture, Goal.com looks back at the 10 top-flight English campaigns with the most nail-biting climaxes, when the destiny of the title went right to the wire...

 

10th:  1952 - Manchester United’s six-shooters spike Gunners

On the first (and until 1989, only) occasion that the top two teams fought out a championship decider in the last game of the season, Manchester United asserted their superiority in emphatic fashion.  

Arsenal needed to win their remaining three matches of the season - including the FA Cup final - to achieve the 20th century’s first Double, but had been seriously weakened by injuries to key players in the closing weeks. It proved decisive. Losing their penultimate league match 3-1 at West Brom effectively ended their chances, as they travelled to Old Trafford on the last day needing to beat the Red Devils - the only other side who could win the title - by seven goals.

United were in no mood to allow that. They thrashed the Gunners 6-1, Jack Rowley scoring three, to take the crown for the first time in 41 years.  

 

9th: 1960 – Burnley leave Wolves hungry  

It was a tale of the unexpected when  Burnley – who had not led the First Division table at all until the last game of the season – were crowned champions.

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In their final fixture the Clarets had to beat Manchester City away to take the title from Wolves, champions in each of the last two seasons and soon to become FA Cup winners.

Burnley won a Maine Road thriller 2-1, depriving Wolves - who five weeks earlier had beaten them 6-1 - of a hat-trick of titles.  Wolves had topped the table in 1958 by five points, and in 1959 by six, but in 1960 the Lancashire side pipped them by a single point.

 

8th: 1965 – Busby steals Revie’s thunder

Leeds United (who had been promoted as Second Division champions only the previous season, and who would also lose the FA Cup final against Liverpool five days later) saw their hopes of the Double wrecked on the last Monday night of the league season.

The Whites were surprisingly held to a 3-3 draw by Birmingham at St Andrew's, while further north Manchester United were beating Arsenal 3-1.

Leeds' one point and United's two left them both on 61 points after a 42-match season, but Matt Busby's team (89 goals scored; 39 conceded) had a superior goal average to Don Revie's (83-52), so United claimed their first title since the Busby Babes had perished at Munich.

 

7th: 2002 – Theatre of Dreams for Wenger Boys

Having already won the FA Cup, Arsenal needed one more victory to secure the title and their third Double. The first of their two remaining games was at Old Trafford against Manchester United, who could still win the title themselves and were desperate to shred Arsenal's nerves by beating them, closing to within two points and making the final day’s fixtures decisive.  

The Gunners (81 points) led the table from United (76) and, having won 12 successive league games, were hardly short of confidence.

After 57 minutes of a hard-fought affair, Sylvain Wiltord scored from the rebound when Fabien Barthez parried Freddie Ljungberg’s shot. It was the end of the scoring - and of the title race.

 

6th: 1947 – Potters crack to make it a Red letter day

Liverpool beat First Division leaders Wolves to take over at the top in their final match of a season extended into mid-summer because of that winter’s big freeze.

The fixture back-log meant the Reds had to finish their programme with four successive away games, during which they only dropped one point. But they then had to wait to see how Stoke City - two points below them but with a better goal average - fared in their last match, at Sheffield United on June 14.

It had been Stoke's best league season and they were within touching distance of their first ever title. But when the Potters lost 2-1 at Bramall Lane, Liverpool became the first post-war champions.

 

5th: 1968 – City edge the last all-Manchester affair

It was the last time the two Manchester clubs were neck-and-neck in the final furlong - and City pipped their rivals at the post to take the title.

In a classic on Tyneside, Joe Mercer’s side beat Newcastle 4-3 to complete their programme, while United were going down 2-1 at home to Stoke. The results put City two points clear at the top.

With only two points for a win, Liverpool - who beat Nottingham Forest 6-1 and still had a game in hand - were a further point behind, leaving City in an unassailable position. However, United quickly got over their disappointment by winning the European Cup.

 

 4th: 1971 – Leeds bereft as Gunners win north London derby

Arsenal needed a goalless draw or victory against their bitter rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the final league match of the season, which they went into trailing First Division leaders Leeds United by one point.

Leeds (64 points) had completed their programme, but a score-draw or a Spurs win at the Lane would see Don Revie’s side crowned champions.

There were just two minutes to go when Ray Kennedy headed Arsenal into the lead. Now the vagaries of goal average meant a Spurs goal would deprive them of the title, but heroic goalkeeping from Bob Wilson saw the Gunners safely over the line with 65 points.                                                                       

 

 3rd: 1924 – Long division separates Terriers from Bluebirds

Maths settled the title after what had been the closest race since the League’s formation in 1888. Herbert Chapman's Huddersfield Town shaded Cardiff City by 0.024 of a goal in an era when goal average ruled.

On the last day of the season, leaders Cardiff, a point ahead, needed only to win. Second-placed Huddersfield did what they had to, beating Nottingham Forest 3-0, but when Cardiff were awarded a penalty at St Andrew’s, none of their senior players wanted the responsibility of taking it kick.

So Len Davies struck his first-ever penalty. Birmingham’s keeper saved it and the game finished 0-0, leaving Cardiff’s goal average (60 for, 33 against) marginally inferior to that of Huddersfield (61-34), who duly won the first of three consecutive titles.

 

2nd:  1995 – United’s last-day stumble costlier than Blackburn’s

Tension, drama, sentiment and simultaneous Sky broadcasts of the action from Anfield and Upton Park produced a real cliff-hanger of a final day.

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An absorbing if occasionally scandalised season see-sawed thrillingly at the very end. Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, now manager of Blackburn (89 points), needed Rovers to beat the Reds to be sure of lifting their first championship in 81 years. But if Manchester United (87) won at West Ham on the final day and Liverpool beat Blackburn, the Red Devils would retain their title.

After going ahead at Anfield, Rovers lost the lead and, in the closing minutes, the match turned when Jamie Redknapp curled in Liverpool's winner. But seconds later all corners of Anfield erupted in celebration with news of the final whistle at West Ham, where United had been held to a 1-1 draw, making Blackburn champions.                                                                                                                                               

 

1st: 1989 – Up for grabs for Arsenal at Anfield

The most dramatic finish ever saw Arsenal head to Merseyside for the season’s final fixture needing to beat defending champions Liverpool 2-0 to win the title – and prevent the Reds from completing the Double.

Liverpool only had to draw, or lose by one goal, to retain their crown. Kenny Dalglish's side were unbeaten since early January, while Arsenal hadn't won at Anfield for nearly 15 years.

The Gunners scored after 52 minutes but George Graham’s side couldn’t find that vital second goal until it finally came in injury time from Michael Thomas. The result meant both teams had the same number of points and identical goal differences - but Arsenal were champions by virtue of having scored more goals - the tightest finish of the lot.

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