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Brexit-mad Warnock, Jose on his jacksie, a brilliant two-horse title race.. here are my end-of-season awards.

Byline: BRIAN READE At the heart of football

LAST season's one-horse title stroll became a two-horse race involving thoroughbreds of the highest skill and staying power.

As an inward-looking nation stared endlessly at its navel, our teams showed how thrilling it could be to succeed at the heart of a European project, with both of UEFA's finals all-English affairs.

Sadly, racism seeped back, with a banana skin thrown, players abused for their race and religion and songs unheard since the 80s resurfacing.

And tragedy struck with the deaths of Cardiff 's new signing Emiliano Sala and Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. But both clubs acted magnificently in the aftermath, restoring some faith in our, at times, callous modern game.

Abroad, Real Madrid fans blamed Gareth Bale for all their ills and Barcelona's did the same with Philippe Coutinho. Which might just be a warning to the Premier League's finest that a move to Spain's top two does not guarantee footballing El Dorado.

And so to the gongs

FUNNIEST JOKE

AN ASTON VILLA fan throwing a cabbage in the direction of Steve Bruce before yelling, "This is what you've reduced us to" was funny. But not half as comical as Arsenal's defending away from home. We chuckled at Jose Mourinho landing on his jacksie when starting a Russian ice hockey game as he d never or the Nazis. nock heit as he sought new pay days. But nothing left us howling more than Wayne Hennessey claiming the straight-armed salute he was filmed giving at a dinner could not possibly have been a Nazi one he'd heard of Adolf Hitler

MOST NEIL WARNOCK MOMENT

THERE was that eff-theforeigners, pro-Brexit rant in front of a Visit Malaysia sign: "I can't wait to get out of it. I think we'll be far better out of the bloody thing. In every aspect. Football-wise as well. To hell with the rest of the world." There was his Game of Thrones-t e ere nes-officials ea when he d th type square-up to the after a defeat to Chelsea gave them a very scary death stare. But nothing summed up his unique weirdness better than his long swagger and glare down a Sky camera which someone set brilliantly to The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony. The Prem will miss him.

BEST GAME

HAD to be the one that decided the league. Manchester City 2 Liverpool 1. A pulsating, passionate, nerveshredding classic. That extra goal in City's favour being the one that eventually kept them champions, and the 11millimetre goal-line clearance by John Stones epitomising the closest title race in years.

BEST GOAL

VINCENT KOMPANY'S howitzer against Leicester is in the mix due to quality and context, as is Mo Salah's against Chelsea for similar reasons.

Andros Townsend's 30-yard volley against City and Heung-Min Son running half the pitch to score against Chelsea were also contenders. But the most beautifully constructed goal was Aaron Ramsey's backheel against Fulham, after a gorgeously slick 13-touch move that travelled the length of the pitch and took Arsenal back in time to the Wenger glory days.

TEAM OF THE SEASON

THERE were contenders from other clubs: Lucasz Fabianski in goal, Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back, James Maddison, Joao Moutinho and Heung-Min Son in midfield, but only Eden Hazard could force his way into a side made up completely of players from Manchester City and Liverpool. The truest reflection of why these two sides absolutely bossed the league: Ederson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Aymeric Laporte, Andy Robertson; Eden Hazard, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva; Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mane.

BEST QUOTE

RICHARD KEYS was always good for a nonsensical offering, as he showed in January: "If Rafa loves Newcastle, as he says - spend some of his own money. He's got enough. Management is about teamwork - why should it always be (Mike) Ashley? Buy it. It's still for sale. They're in the bottom 3 & Rafa is responsible. He picks the team."

Jose Mourinho gave us a classic blame-defecting rant after a 3-0 home defeat to Spurs, when he raised three fingers at the media and said. "Do you know what this is? 3-0. But it also means three Premierships and I won more Premierships alone than the other 19 managers together. Three for me and two for them, two."

But for sheer honesty and heartfelt disgust it has to be Gary Neville on his old club: "There's nothing I like about this United team at all. It's just awful.

Look at them. They're the most despondent group of people. As a manager, you want to like your team. I look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, I can't imagine he's down there thinking he likes watching this lot. I don't."

MOST SURREAL MOMENT

PREMIER LEAGUE chairmen awarding outgoing CEO Richard Scudamore a PS5million golden handshake made us gawp. As did Dave Cotterill, after a fan attacked Jack Grealish during the Brum derby, saying we need armed police on stand-by at all games, and Mario Balotelli getting a pitch-side cameraman to film his goal celebration for Marseille. But the winner had to be Jordan Pickford in injury time in the Anfield derby deciding not to push Virgil van Dijk's wild punt away for a corner, but guide it on to the bar so it could bounce perfectly on to the head of Divock Origi to score the winner. You couldn't practise it.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

GORDON BANKS, Tommy Smith, Kevin Beattie, Peter Thompson, Billy McNeil, Stevie Chalmers, Eric Harrison, Doug Ellis, RIP. Oh, and St Totteringham's Day, too.

CAPTION(S):

VICTORY CARVED IN STONE Leroy Sane fires home the Manchester City second to seal a narrow 2-1 victory made even tighter by the clearance from John Stones (left) with the ball just 11 millimetres from crossing the goalline

PRANCING ON ICE Mourinho took a tumble and Neil Warnock could only stare at officials after Chelsea's late win over Cardiff. Vincent Kompany hit a worldie to beat Leicester and Divock Origi's goal won the Mersey derby
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 16, 2019
Words:995
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