LONDON The curtain fell on one of the most dramatic Premier League title races for years on Sunday with Manchester City acclaimed as champions while Liverpool looked on from the wings dreaming of what might have been.
City avoided any last-minute twists in a season when the lead at the top changed hands 24 times to beat visitors West Ham United 2-0 ensuring the league trophy returned to the Etihad Stadium for the second time in three seasons.
Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1 against a Newcastle United side that finished with nine men at Anfield but it proved an empty victory for manager Brendan Rodgers, captain Steven Gerrard and the rest of the deflated team in red.
Liverpool's only hope of ending a 24-year wait to be crowned champions was if City lost and they won but that outcome never looked remotely likely as Manuel Pellegrini's side dominated West Ham from the first minute to the last.
There was a massive roar at the Etihad when the final table was flashed on to the giant screens showing City with 86 points, Liverpool on 84, Chelsea 82, Arsenal 79, Everton 72, Tottenham Hotspur 69 and deposed champions Manchester United on 64.
Goals from Samir Nasri after 39 minutes and captain Vincent Kompany 10 minutes later ensured City's triumphant march to the title was completed with a comfortable victory.
City's Chilean coach Pellegrini, in his first season in England, became the first non-European to guide a team to the English title and told Sky Sports: "It’s a very special time.
"My first year is not easy to get used to English football but I think I managed a great group of players.
"But big teams cannot be satisfied with one title. It's very important. Celebrate, today, tomorrow and Monday and on Tuesday start working for next season because this club and players deserve more titles."
Chelsea finished third after a 2-1 win at bottom side Cardiff City while fourth-placed Arsenal rubber-stamped Norwich City's drop into the second tier with a 2-0 win at Carrow Road.
Aaron Ramsey scored a stunning goal from an acute angle while defender Carl Jenkinson got his first for the Gunners.
Norwich and Cardiff will play in the Championship next term along with Fulham, who had already been relegated and ended 13 years as a Premier League club with a 2-2 home draw in a London derby with Crystal Palace.
The only other issue to be decided on the final day of the season was which club would finish sixth and take the final Europa League spot along with fifth-placed Everton and FA Cup finalists Hull City who meet Arsenal at Wembley next week.
Tottenham Hotspur duly clinched it with a 3-0 home win over Aston Villa thanks to first-half goals from Brazil midfielder Paulinho, a Nathan Baker own goal and an Emmanuel Adebayor penalty in what could be Tim Sherwood's last match in charge.
Manchester United would have finished sixth if they had won at Southampton and Spurs had lost but United's miserable season petered out with a 1-1 draw at St Mary's in Ryan Giggs' last match as interim manager.
A Juan Mata freekick in the second half canceled out Rickie Lambert's opener for the Saints as United finished seventh a year after being crowned champions.
It was their lowest finish since they came sixth in 1991 and there will be no European football at Old Trafford next season for the first time since 1990.
There will still be European football in Manchester though, albeit in the blue half of the city as City challenge for the Champions League.
While there were scenes of unbridled joy at The Etihad, 30 miles away at Anfield the atmosphere was subdued as an own goal from Martin Skrtel saw Newcastle ahead at the break.
However, second-half strikes by Daniel Agger and Daniel Sturridge ensured Liverpool ended the season with a win against opponents who had Shola Ameobi and Paul Dummett sent off.
Liverpool have now finished runners-up four times since winning their last title in 1990 but, despite the disappointing end to the season, coach Brendan Rodgers was upbeat.
"It's been brilliant," he told Sky Sports.
"We've been on an incredible journey this year. To finish with 12 wins and a draw is an incredible achievement.
"It was a tough game for us today so it was a great way to finish. It was unfortunate not to win the title but we've shown great hope for the future going forward.
"It's a huge privilege to be manager. We've helped the supporters dream here and we're a team on the up and we have momentum.
"I don't think we failed to cope with the pressure. We won 12 and drew one and we just had an unfortunate result against Chelsea. We were just unable to get the result.
"This has been an incredible run for us. This is group that could cope with the pressure but we'll learn from this."
Skipper Steven Gerrard, who has never won the title during his 16 years with Liverpool, had a different view.
"I'm absolutely devastated. Personally gutted and gutted for the fans," he told the BBC.
But he added: "We can't be too down because it’s been a great season and we have to bounce back for next season. Hopefully we can keep improving but we have to congratulate Man City because they’ve been the best for 38 games."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)