Alex Ferguson’s fierce Sunderland vow and emotional John O’Shea after Man Utd lost league

Manchester United beat Sunderland on the final day of the 2011-12 Premier League season, but Manchester City’s victory over Queens Park Rangers denied them the league title

Ferguson took the positives from Man Utd’s final-day heartbreak (Image: PA)ByTom Victor

  • 08:00, 13 May 2022
  • Updated11:47, 13 May 2022
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Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was visibly upset when his team lost the 2011-12 Premier League title at the last moment, but the reaction of Sunderland supporters added another layer onto things.

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Sunderland were United's opponents on the final day, when a Wayne Rooney goal decided the game in the favour of Ferguson's team. However, it wasn't enough, with late goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero giving Manchester City the victory they needed against 10-man Queens Park Rangers

However, the decision from some home fans at the Stadium of Light to cheer for City left its mark on the United boss. It was still on his mind months later, when the Red Devils prepared to take on the Black Cats once more as they pushed to reclaim the title.

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Speaking at an awards ceremony shortly after the end of the 2011-12 season, Ferguson compared the Sunderland game to United's disappointing end to the 1991-92 season. On that occasion, they were beaten by Liverpool in their penultimate game, narrowly missing out on the title to Leeds United.

"When we lost the league to Leeds United in 1992, the young players came out that day and the Liverpool supporters were asking for their autographs," he said. "They were tearing them up, they were tearing the autographs up, and I said to Giggs and the boys 'remember this day'.

"That's exactly what I said to them yesterday; those Sunderland fans were cheering for City – remember the day, we won't forget that. Well done to the players, a fantastic group – they will be alright, don't worry about them."

Was the 2012 title race the best ever? Have your say in the comments section

Ferguson wasn't happy with the Sunderland fans' reaction
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So it proved, with United going on to reclaim the title in 2013. However, ahead of the next meeting with Sunderland, the events of May 2012 appeared to still be playing on the manager's mind.

"It was a disappointing reaction when you think of the number of players we’ve given Sunderland over the years," Ferguson said in December 2012, as reported by The Mail. "Jonny Evans and Danny Simpson got them promoted a few years back.

"It’s just fans. It wasn’t malicious, it was them enjoying the moment. Revenge won’t come into anything tomorrow. Winning the game is more important to us because after the impetus we got from last week, it’s time for us to really kick on."

O'Shea joined Sunderland from Man Utd
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Not only had former United players helped the Black Cats come back up and establish themselves in the Premier League, but several were playing in that season-ending game in 2012. Fraizer Campbell started up front, with Phil Bardsley at left-back, while John O'Shea joined Bardsley in defence.

However, while some Sunderland fans seemed pleased with City's league win, the opposite was true of O'Shea. The Irish international was in his first season on Wearside after more than a decade with United, and Ferguson would later recall his reaction to events on May 13, 2012.

"I went from half ready to celebrate to coming back into the dressing room," Ferguson said in 2017, at An Evening With Rory McIlroy at the Convention Centre (via The Star ). "I'll always remember, as we were going down the tunnel, John O'Shea was standing there and he was almost crying. John was a Sunderland boy [by then].

"He said, 'Boss, what can I say?' I had to brush by him as my mind was going 'What can I say to these boys of mine?"

Rooney's winner at Sunderland wasn't enough to bring United the title
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The Sunderland game also left an impact on Rooney, who scored United's winner but was upset by the fans' response. Indeed, he would later share his thoughts in his autobiography.

“When the fixtures come out I look for three games — City, Liverpool and Everton. This time I checked the Sunderland game," Rooney wrote. If there is one team that I want to beat this season it will be Sunderland.

“When the final whistle went, we didn’t really know what the score at City was. But then we heard the Sunderland fans cheering," the former England striker said after the game.

"It was sad to see because they should be supporting their own team really. They didn’t have the best of seasons so for them to be cheering like that was sad. It was something myself and a lot of the players won’t forget.”

United won both meetings with Sunderland in 2012-13, with Rooney on target in a 3-1 home win and a Titus Bramble own goal settling the reverse fixture. Sure enough, Ferguson's men would take the positives from their final day heartbreak and lift the title in their manager's final season in charge.

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