United had looked set to return to the Barclays Premier League’s top spot for New Year with victory at St Andrew’s, but Sir Alex Ferguson was left visibly seething at the manner of the Reds’ actual ascension via superior goal difference to second-placed Manchester City.
The Reds led Birmingham by a goal to nil in a tight game against Alex McLeish’s terrier-like team, but a dubious late goal earned the Blues a point and spoiled Sir Alex’s end to 2010.
“We outplayed them in the second half and we didn’t deserve that,” Sir Alex said. “But football is a funny game and this is a difficult place to come to. But I think we deserved to win. We were the better team.
“We maybe should have finished them off after we went 1-0 up. The number of times we counter-attacked against them, we just needed to take more care with our final pass or the finishing shot. It was just one of these days, it’s unfortunate.”
Referee Lee Mason drew Sir Alex’s ire for his decision to ignore a handball and a foul on Rio Ferdinand by substitute Nikola Zigic who, United claim illegally, teed-up Lee Bowyer’s 89th-minute equaliser.
“It was handball and a foul on the centre-half, he went right through him,” said the Reds boss. “If the referee can’t see that, what chance have you got? At this level, in a game of this importance, you expect to be given a referee that can see that.”
Sir Alex was nevertheless satisfied with his team’s endeavours. “I’ve got no complaints about my team,” he added. “They fought hard, worked hard and only had two days’ rest [since the Sunderland game], and they ran their socks off. So it’s hard on them.
“The first half was a non-event. The ball was in the air a lot and that’s how Birmingham set their stall out. It’s a difficult place to come to. They got stuck right into us. They’re at the bottom of the league so you expect that. It’s a tough place to come to. It’s a tight ground, a lively pitch. You see the result they’ve had over the years. They make it difficult for you.”