May 15, 2016 8:55:02 pm
Police dismantled a fake bomb inside Old Trafford on an unnerving final day of the Premier League season that forced the abandonment of Manchester United’s game against Bournemouth before kickoff on Sunday.
The 380th and final game of an unpredictable season will now be played on Tuesday night at the same venue but FA Cup finalist United cannot realistically qualify for the Champions League after crosstown rival Manchester City effectively secured fourth place on Sunday.
Two stands in United’s 75,000-capacity stadium in northern England were initially evacuated before the scheduled 3 p.m. kickoff time. As military personnel arrived, the remaining fans and the players were ordered to leave England’s second biggest soccer stadium.
A bomb disposal unit carried out a controlled explosion on what police described as an “incredibly lifelike explosive device” but one that was not “viable.”
The incident adds to the uneasiness about safety in sports stadiums in Europe following last year’s Paris attacks when the Stade de France was one of the venues targeted by suicide bombers.
English soccer increased security after that incident and the United game is the first time a Premier League match has been postponed because of a bomb threat.
The unsettling incident for fans came at the climax of the most unpredictable Premier League season.
Leicester was crowned champions earlier this month and completed the first title-winning season in the club’s 132-year history with a 1-1 draw at manager Claudio Ranieri’s former club, Chelsea.
Danny Drinkwater canceled out Cesc Fabregas’ penalty to ensure that Leicester, which narrowly avoided relegation a year ago, ended this campaign with only three losses in the 38 games.
Leicester finished the season with 81 points compared with 41 a year ago 10 points above Arsenal, which overhauled north London rival Tottenham to claim second place in a dramatic finale.
Tottenham had been Leicester’s closest challenger for the title but failed to win its last four games, culminating in a humiliating 5-1 loss against 10-man Newcastle, which had already been relegated. That allowed Arsenal to climb into second place after Olivier Giroud’s hat trick powered Arsene Wenger’s team to a 4-0 rout of bottom-place Aston Villa.
The results protected a proud record for Wenger: Arsenal has still finished above Tottenham every season since the Frenchman took charge in 1996.
By finishing third, Tottenham is still guaranteed a second shot at the Champions League, six years after first playing Europe’s elite competition.
Man City’s priority was securing fourth place, but new manager Pep Guardiola will have to advance through the playoffs in August to reach the group stage. In Manuel Pellegrini’s last league match in charge, City was held 1-1 by Swansea but a vastly superior goal difference means it realistically cannot be caught by United.
Southampton completed the campaign in style, beating FA Cup finalist Crystal Palace 4-1 to provisionally move above United into fifth place on the brink of Europa League qualification. Southampton will stay there if United loses to Bournemouth on Tuesday in the rearranged fixture that curtails Louis van Gaal’s preparations for Saturday’s cup final.
Pellegrini isn’t the only departure this month from the Premier League.
Everton responded to the firing of manager Roberto Martinez by beating relegated Norwich 3-0 as American goalkeeper Tim Howard kept a clean sheet in his 414th and final game after a decade with the Merseyside club.
Quique Sanchez Flores signed off from Watford with a 2-2 draw against Sunderland with the manager leaving despite delivering the club’s highest top flight placing in 29 years by finishing 13th.
Although Liverpool drew 1-1 at West Bromwich Albion to finish eighth, the team has a Europa League final against Sevilla on Wednesday to repare for at the end of Juergen Klopp’s first season in charge.
West Ham finished one place higher in seventh despite losing 2-1 at Stoke as the London club now focuses on its move to the Olympic Stadium ready for the new campaign in August.
“Due to a suspect package being found in the North West Quadrant, today’s match has been abandoned on police advice,” the club said.
The Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End of the ground were evacuated about 20 minutes before the scheduled kickoff at 1400 GMT. Sniffer dogs were used to search the area.
A Premier League statement later said, “The decision to abandon the Manchester United versus AFC Bournemouth match was taken after the police advised of the necessity to deal with a suspect package.”
“When it comes to matters of security it is obviously right that Manchester United and the Premier League place the safety of supporters and employees foremost.”
“The Premier League will seek to rearrange the fixture as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly. It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologise for the inconvenience caused to fans we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so.”
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