United are back at the Barclays Premier League’s summit, ahead of noisy neighbours Manchester City who'd temporarily gone top with a 4-0 win over Aston Villa. But the lead, by goal difference only, is not as commanding as Sir Alex Ferguson would have liked after a typically hard-fought 1-1 draw at Birmingham City.
It looked like a moment of magic and yet another goal from the league’s top goalscorer, Dimitar Berbatov, had given United victory in a game characterised by its battling qualities rather than its technical brilliance. But Sir Alex’s men can justifiably feel aggrieved at the dubious fashion with which Birmingham snatched a last-minute equaliser through Lee Bowyer.
United remain the sole unbeaten team in England, and are now only the seventh club in top-flight history to enter the New Year without defeat in the league. Most importantly Sir Alex's men are top of the table, with games in hand on City and Chelsea. But there was more than a tinge of frustration at the manner in which the Reds were forced to end 2010.
Despite there being little over 48 hours between the visit to St Andrew’s and the comfortable 2-0 Boxing Day win over Sunderland, Sir Alex made only one alteration to his starting line-up – Darron Gibson coming in for Ji-sung Park, who is now on Asian Cup duty with South Korea until the end of January. The lack of personnel changes may not entirely have been down to choice - Nani would undoubtedly have been recalled had he overcome a hip injury, while Darren Fletcher was fit enough only for the bench after missing the Sunderland clash through illness.
The Reds started out in a 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson sitting deeper and allowing the in-form Anderson to push on, while Ryan Giggs started on the right, Wayne Rooney took up a position on the left and Berbatov was stationed up front on his own.