A week after Manchester United’s shock FA Cup exit, Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a side with immense respect for Birmingham City’s Alex McCleish at St. Andrews. A match that was 1 of only 2 to survive the inclement weather on Saturday saw a 4-5-1 with Wayne Rooney in a lone striker role supported by Ji-sung Park and Antonio Valencia on the wings. Ferguson’s five man midfield attempted to dominate the flow of play and supply Rooney up front. With the fantastic form Birmingham City has been on as of late, McCleish’s squad seem to pick themselves. Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez led a subdued attack for Birmingham City.
Joe Hart was again superb in goal for the Blues, he denied Rooney the break through after 24 minutes when Rooney latched on to a Valencia cross, the two Englishmen found themselves mano-a-mano with Hart winning out.
It took some time for the match to get going as both sides attempted to dominate the play in midfield with only Manchester United creating the odd chance on goal. Birmingham City defended well but showed little in attack in the first half. McCleish’s game plan was obvious: keep it tight and close in the first half, counter when applicable. It worked.
The breakthrough came against the run of play when Cameron Jerome tapped in from a few yards out. Manchester United were unable to clear a corner from James McFadden and when the ball ping-ponged off Johnny Evans, Jerome took his chance. The Blues had their lead albeit, based on the balance of play, undeserved. There wasn’t enough up front for United in the first half to create viable and consistent chances. Ferguson would have to partner someone up front to support Rooney in the second half if the champions were to win. With Dimitar Berbatov not even on the bench, Michael Owen or Ryan Giggs would be the obvious choice.
United’s defense looked shaky in the opening moments of the second half, the champions would have conceded a second had it not been for a fine save from Tomasz Kuszczak who was superb in goal all day for United. Birmingham City looked happy to sit back on their one goal lead and keep the play compact and organized.
In a moment of controversy, United drew level when Birmingham City defender Scott Dann bundled the ball into his own goal. After replays, it looks like Rooney was in an offside position but to no matter. Because a Manchester United player didn’t touch the ball, the goal stood. Referee Mark Clattenburg discussed with his linesman and got the call correct.
After Ji-sung Park made way for Ryan Giggs, the sparky Christian Benitez challenged Kuszczak in goal only to be denied by another fine save from the Polish keeper. Birmingham City were looking increasingly dangerous on the counter. The match looked set for a winner in the last 15 minutes, only question is, from who?
Paul Scholes came close with a trademark blast before making way for United debutant Mame Biram Diouf, who United have high hopes for. Soon after, Darren Fletcher who had yet again been solid for United saw his second yellow, a cheap leg out on goal scorer Jerome, and United were down to 10 men. In all honesty, Birmingham City were the side most likely to claim a winner, they fought hard and created chances while United’s attack continued to not impress. After 6 minutes of added time, Birmingham remained undefeated in 12 Premier League games, while United claimed their first away draw of the season.
Manchester United will lament not being able to take advantage of Arsenal’s draw earlier in the day and if Chelsea win their next match, they’ll have the chance to go 4 points clear of the current champions. Overall it was a hard fought game and deserved to finish equal.