SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND (AP) - The players left the field as if shellshocked. The fans looked at each other in disbelief, standing with hands on heads in bewildered silence.
This was supposed to be a great celebration for Manchester United. Instead, the Premier League title slipped from its grasp in the final minutes of the season.
United had seemed set to successfully defend its title after its 1-0 win at Sunderland, with Wayne Roomey scoring on a header in the 20th minute.
Manchester City, meanwhile, was trailing 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers entering injury time. But City showed remarkable grit, scoring twice to win 3-2 and seize the title from its crosstown rival.
"It's a cruel way (to lose the title)," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We've experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years I've been here, most of them have been great, we've won the title three times on the last day, today we nearly did it.
"I'd like to say on behalf of Manchester United, congratulations to our neighbors _ a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League."
The top two were even on points going into the final round, and City used its better goal difference to clinch its first title since 1968.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill recalled his time in charge of Scottish club Celtic when he lost the title to rival Rangers by a goal difference of just one in 2002.
"It's incredible, really," he said. "It's just about the most harrowing thoughts you can have. You immediately start thinking about goals you could have scored during the course of the year."
The outcome also reminiscent of the 1999 Champions League final when United scored two late goals in a 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich.
In a Premier League season full of twists and turns, United had led the standings by eight points with six games remaining at the beginning of April.
Looking to extend its record haul of league titles to 20 _ including 12 Premier League trophies under Ferguson _ United seemed to have broken City's challenge. But an unexpected loss at Wigan, followed by a 4-4 draw against Everton let City back into the race. City then beat United two weeks ago to edge ahead on goal difference, setting up a riveting finale.
When word filtered into the stadium that City had taken the lead against QPR, Sunderland fans taunted the visitors with chants of "1-0 to the City boys" and suggestions that United would win nothing this season.
United's fans responded by holding a banner with the number 19 _ the record number of titles won by the club _ while Ferguson chewed his gum pensively on the bench.
"You never know _ you're going to get certain types of reaction from the crowd," Ferguson said. "You have to put that to one side and play your own game. I thought we did quite well."
As the final whistle blew at the Stadium of Light, United's fans stood, nervously waiting for confirmation of City's failure to beat QPR.
Incredibly, that expectation soured in minutes.
"We've had so many injuries this season and we have coped with that really well," Ferguson said. "We've a lot of young players. They'll be around in five, six, seven, 10 years time at Manchester United. The experience is good for them, even if it's a bad one."