As Birmingham chose a defensive 4-5-1 system, United did much of the pressing and had most of the ball in the first fifteen minutes. The Reds’ first effort on goal came from Rooney, who shifted in-field and fired a shot wide of former United goalkeeper Ben Foster’s post. Rooney came into the game without a league goal since August, although he has shown form playing deep behind Berbatov.
On 18 minutes, Giggs hit a post with a misdirected right-foot cross that deceived Foster. After getting a fingertip to the ball, the keeper was able to share a wry smile with his former team-mate, indicating the Welshman's lack of goalscoring intent. But United’s early domination dissipated like the pre-match fog, and a flurry of tackles and bookings told the tale of a game that became a midfield scrap.
Birmingham put men behind the ball, but Alex McLeish attended United’s victory over Sunderland and knew not to allow his opponents space. His Blues side didn’t just sit back to soak up pressure, they actively pursued the men in red to stifle the visitors' attacking threat. Carrick and Anderson, so crucial to kick-starting forward forays, were never given time on the ball.
It was the type of game that required brilliance to break the deadlock, and it arrived on 59 minutes from the top flight's leading goalscorer. Berbatov not only provided the finish to put United in front. It was his incisive skill - a flick to Gibson who returned the ball to the Bulgarian - that enabled him to fire the ball past Foster at his near post. Berbatov almost grabbed a second a minute later with more fleet-footed trickery on the edge of the box. He danced away from two defenders before his low-struck shot ricocheted off the post with the keeper beaten once again.