Hammering in the final nail



The penultimate week in this season's Premier League title race offers some interesting links to the past. Manchester United, so often involved at this time of year, will look to stay ahead of Chelsea on a weekend that conjures images of two defining moments of past campaigns.

When the reigning champions take on West Ham United at Old Trafford tonight fans could be forgiven for being slightly apprehensive; the Hammers have spoilt the party for Sir Alex Ferguson's men before.

In 1995, when Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn Rovers were two points ahead going into the final weekend, West Ham held United to a 1-1 draw at Upton Park. The Red Devils needed a victory to overtake Shearer and Co at the league's summit, only for Ferguson to become steadfastly more animated as his side contrived to miss chance after chance in a one-sided second half.

Ludo Miklosko, in goal for the hosts, was inspired that day, denying Andy Cole countless times and single-handedly sending the Premier League trophy to Lancashire. Fergie famously described the hosts' resolute performance as "an obscene amount of effort".

The spirited Scotsman will not want a repeat of that scoreline tonight, when his side play a West Ham team marooned in mid-table mediocrity. With title-rivals Chelsea not in action until Monday, United can expect to put the pressure back on the London club with victory at Old Trafford.

Chelsea travel to Newcastle after the weekend in search for three points to guarantee their quest for a third Premier League crown continues into the final round of fixtures.

The Stamford Bridge club have a less than impressive record on Tyneside – former boss Jose Mourinho never won at St James' Park – and it could just be that opposing manager Kevin Keegan plays protagonist in another Manchester United title-run.

Twelve years ago, as Keegan's attack-minded Magpies marched towards their first ever championship, the wheels came off spectacularly in front of millions watching on television.

Sir Alex had goaded the Newcastle manager by claiming their opponents would throw matches to send the title to the North East, and Keegan exploded live on Sky Sports in a now infamous post-match interview.

His teary-eyed diatribe against his Reds Devils' counterpart gave the Premier League one of its most memorable moments, and the ex-Liverpool midfielder could write another chapter in the competition's brief history this week.

His Newcastle side have nothing to play for after another disappointing campaign – 12th place in the league highlights that – but the man from Doncaster would surely "love it" if he had a small say in the destination of the trophy this time around.