After a quiet few weeks for the reds, United travelled to Saint Andrews for their second game in as many days, on the back of a promising victory over Sunderland on boxing day. Although Birmingham have struggled in the league lately victory was by no means a formality, given Birmingham’s impressive home record having only lost at Saint Andrews once in the past year and a half. Unfortunately for United, Nani had failed to shake off a knock which had kept him out on boxing day, meaning a three pronged attack of Giggs, Berbatov and Rooney.
As expected, United got to grips with the game early, controlling the ball and creating a few half chances, with Rooney shooting narrowly wide and then tamely at Foster. However as has been the case many times before, Rooney failed to adapt to playing as a winger, as we struggled to stretch the Birmingham back four without any genuine width, leaving Berbatov isolated up front. It was a frustrating half for the reds, with lots of possession ultimately leading to very little in the way of goal mouth action and the half time whistle came with the scores still level.
United continued to labour in the second half, despite the usual excellent vocal support of the travelling reds. However, United’s persistence paid off on the hour mark, as Berbatov produced a moment of real quality, finishing powerfully into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. The Bulgarian nearly doubled United’s lead and put the game out of sight minutes later, after some great footwork on the edge of the area, only to see his shot hit the post. Birmingham were remaining competitive, yet they had failed to work Van Der Sar whatsoever, even the introduction of their towering striker Nikola Zigic brought them no joy.
United’s record on the road this season has been poor at best, winning only one game and drawing the remaining 7, and the reds uncertainty showed in the final stages of the game, as we allowed Birmingham to come forward and apply pressure whereas before we had been comfortable. And it was unsurprising when on 90 minutes, Lee Bowyer cropped up at the back post to convert Zigic’s knockdown and steal away two more pressure points from United. To compound the travelling reds misery, replays showed that not only did Zigic impede Ferdinand whilst challenging the ball, he also clearly handled it in the process. Although as United fans we see our team get our fair share of favourable decisions, its difficult not to be enraged by such poor officiating which has ultimately cost us valuable points.
Despite the sinking feeling of more points dropped, United still remain top with games in hand, and with rivals dropping points regularly our home form alone can keep us up to pace in the title race. However, it is obvious that we need to start converting winning positions into points, and with massive games between now and the end of the season, including trips to the Emirates, Anfield, White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge, United need to get the winning feeling back on the road. However, with games against Blackpool and West Brom remaining in January, the reds have a great opportunity to pick up some much needed away points before we come into the latter stages of the season.