United missed out on the chance to pinch top spot from Chelsea after the Reds could only manage a 1-1 draw against Birmingham City at St Andrew's.
The hosts had taken the lead completely against the run of play through Cameron Jerome six minutes before half-time, but a Scott Dann own goal drew United level just after the hour mark.
Despite creating a host of first-half chances, the Reds failed to test Joe Hart after the break. Tomasz Kuszczak, on the other hand, was forced to make a string of fine saves as United struggled to hit top gear.
Sir Alex made seven changes to the side that lost out to Leeds United in the FA Cup – the 100th successive game he’d tinkered with the starting XI – with Paul Scholes, Rafael, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ji-sung Park all returning. A niggling knee injury ruled Dimitar Berbatov out of the gane.
The game was one of only two Saturday Barclays Premier League clashes that survived the big freeze – Arsenal’s match with Everton at the Emirates was the other – but both sets of players and fans still had bitterly cold conditions to contend with: indeed the temperature gauge read -3 at kick-off.
It was United’s first outing since last Sunday's shock FA Cup exit, and with Chelsea’s trip to Hull called off it was a chance to regain control at the top of the table. The Reds set about getting back on track straight away with Darren Fletcher almost giving the visitors the perfect start. Having seen his initial corner cleared, Antonio Valencia weaved his way into the area, and while his attempted cross was blocked, it dropped just inside the box to Fletcher, whose fizzing effort was deflected wide by Sebastian Larsson.