MANCHESTER, England (AFP) - A 34th-minute Wayne Rooney
finish was enough to earn Manchester United a 1-0 win over Birmingham City at Old Trafford on Sunday to get the champions off to a winning Premier League start.
Rooney was comfortably the most creative player on display in the lunchtime kick-off which opened both club's respective campaigns and although United were missing Rio Ferdinand with a thigh complaint they shrugged off his absence to record a consummate victory.
United, who will be looking to win their fourth consecutive title this season, had by far the better opportunities in the opening exchanges as they seemed intent on proving the club still has attacking potential without Cristiano Ronaldo following his transfer to Real Madrid in June.
The pace of the opening moments was frenetic as Dimitar Berbatov failed to make the most of a clear chance inside the box while Rooney also had a good opportunity from the rebound that was foiled by the committed Birmingham defence.
Following Berbatov's effort, which goalkeeper Joe Hart deflected clear, Rooney drove into the box with the ball but was muscled out by City as they threw themselves in the path of his effort.
Shortly afterwards, Hart had to be on top form and at full stretch as a wonderful curling Rooney effort from 25 yards was destined for the top corner until the keeper acrobatically leapt to punch over the bar.
Birmingham, to their credit, tried to break with the ball and create their own rare chances as James McFadden persevered down the left wing.
But he rarely had a team-mate to choose from in the United box as the away side got most men behind the ball to protect their clean-sheet.
It was a policy that worked until Rooney finally scored.
A goal had felt imminent as Paul Scholes, Rooney and Berbatov continued to probe threateningly around Birmingham's penalty area and it arrived when Rooney headed a Nani cross onto the base of the post and then managed to tap the rebound over the line for the simplest of finishes.
However, in a remarkable 60 seconds of play, Birmingham could then conceivably have been 2-1 up but the portion of luck they needed refused to arrive, as is so often the case for away teams at Old Trafford.
Firstly, Cameron Jerome unleashed a terrific 20-yard shot which had goalkeeper Ben Foster comfortably beaten but a Scholes deflection helped it swerve just past the post.
From the resulting corner, Patrice Evra was forced into a fine diving header off his own line to keep out Franck Queudrue's header.
The half ended with United again proving their dominance and should have been concluded with a second goal but Darren Fletcher somehow missed the target from point-blank range after solid work from Evra down the right wing.
Rooney re-entered the match after the interval with a speculative 40-yard effort which Hart had to again be at full stretch to clear but the game was distinctly less intense than the first half.
A fine low drive from Birmingham's Keith Fahey was the closest the visitors got to an equaliser while United also struggled to unlock the visitors' defence at the other end.
They kept probing but Birmingham continued to stand up to the home side, typified by Lee Carsley's header which cleared a Berbatov effort of the line with 20 minutes to go.
The visitors also had a golden chance with 12 minutes remaining but Christian Benitez could not beat Foster from close out as the United keeper made a stunning one handed save to divert the ball to safety.
Rooney had the a last chance to cap off a brilliant performance with another header as the end approached but he steered Ryan Giggs' cross wide and substitute Michael Owen also missed late on as Hart did well to block his effort.