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Birmingham 1 Man Utd 1: McLeish's men prove they have no fear of top dogs

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11 Jan 2010 01:23:39

Birmingham 1 Man Utd 1: McLeish's men prove they have no fear of top dogs

Sir Alex Ferguson turned up for his first St Andrew's Premier League fixture seven years ago and he did not rise from his seat in the dug-out. He was confident in the knowledge that players such as Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Juan Sebastian Veron, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy would not let him down. And an expectant home crowd did not see one shot fired at Roy Carroll. Thank Evans: Birmingham's Cameron Jerome pounces on a sloppy clearance from United's Jonny Evans to continue their record-breaking run The result was 1-0 to the visitors. Despite the scoreline, they were so superior to their hosts that they could have parked a deck chair in the middle of the pitch and taken turns to sit in it. Manchester United did not need to park a bus in front of their goal, a corner flag would have done. Hard as nails or big girl's blouse? IT was down to -6 Celsius atSt Andrew's, the kind of weatherto sort the men from the boys...so who passed the short sleeve test? BirminghamHart long sleeves (+ gloves)Carr longJohnson shortDann shortRidgewell longLarsson long (+ gloves)Ferguson longBowyer longMcFadden longBenitez long (+ gloves)Jerome long (+ gloves) Manchester UnitedKuszaczk long (+ gloves)Rafael longBrown shortEvans shortEvra long (+ gloves)Valencia long (+ gloves)Fletcher shortCarrick longScholes shortPark long (+ gloves)Rooney long (+ gloves) Referee: Mark Clattenberg short With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Diego Forlan, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville on the bench, Ferguson boasted a squad which - even in the depths of winter - could turn out a team for all seasons. Fast forward to Saturday evening. One glance at the team-sheet told you all they needed to know. Granted, Wayne Rooney could spring a surprise at any time to unlock one of the meanest defences around, but it was almost as if the fear factor, so long a vital component of the aura built around the Old Trafford club, had disappeared. And, even though Ferguson told his protege Alex McLeish before kick-off that he would not be rising from his seat due to the cold, he was certainly out and about in the final quarter as this game hung in the balance. And not just to slam Mark Clattenburg, whose decision to send off Darren Fletcher for a second bookable offence seemed harsh. In fairness, the incredible achievement of McLeish's players instretching their unbeaten run to a club record-breaking 12 matchesfuelled home confidence. And clearly injuries to Ferguson's rearguardhad exposed replacements who are not on the same level as Ferdinand andNemanja Vidic. But since when have any Birmingham City side evencontemplated the fact that a point, or three, against Manchester Unitedcould be in the offing? James McFadden was not beingdisrespectful at the final whistle when he said: 'The hardest gamewe've had all season was at the Emirates. I'm not saying that Arsenalare going to win the league but they were better. We struggled to copewith them. Up in arms: Patrice Evra celebrates Manchester United's own-goal equaliser, 'It's a tough league and both United and Chelsea are strong, so it's going to go right to the end. Match factsBirmingham: (4-4-2) Hart 7; Carr 7, Johnson 8, Dann 7, Ridgewell 6; Larsson 6 (Fahey 83min), Bowyer 6, Ferguson 7, McFadden 7; Jerome 8, Benitez 7. Booked: Carr, Larrson.Man United: (4-5-1) Kuszczak 7; Rafael 6, Brown 5, Evans 6, Evra 8; Park 5 (Giggs 66, 6), Carrick 6, Scholes 6 (Diouf 81), Fletcher 6, Valencia 6; Rooney 7.Booked: Fletcher. Sent off: Fletcher.Man of the match: Patrice Evra.Referee: Mark Clattenburg. 'The difference is that this season it's quite an open league. That's summed up by how far up the table we are. It's good for us. We managed to get draws against teams top of the league and we are delighted with that.' McFadden's colleague, the tireless Seb Larsson added: 'It's tight, the top teams keep dropping points now. The so-called lesser teams feel we have a chance against them. 'Some teams have caught up a little bit this season. We feel confident going into these sorts of games here at St Andrew's. The top sides have started dropping a few points, so all the teams below them know it's possible. The rest of the Premier League has progressed.' McLeish agreed, adding: 'I do think there has been an advance by other Premier League clubs. Is there still a big four? Not in my opinion. It's more like a big seven now. I think there are seven clubs that anyone else will get near by the end of the season. At least seven.' Touch paper: United boss Sir Alex Ferguson launches another furious protest at the assistant referee So, if the gap has narrowed, there are more competitors for the title and Ferguson's squad no longer contains such a great fear factor, was Saturday evening's point a decent one for the reigning champions? I t has to be seen as such. Fresh from watching Leeds pass the ball around them on their own turf, United might have viewed this as an unwanted fixture following their FA Cup exit. With an under-strength team, bobbly pitch and pumped-up, confident opponents, Ferguson had every reason to worry. Birmingham were as poor in the first half as they had been all season. Yet a weak Jonny Evans clearance from the hosts' first corner in the 39th minute gave Cameron Jerome an easy chance to open the scoring. The grit awardsNo grit shortage where Roger Johnson is concerned he has made more clearances and blocks than anyone in the Premier League. Clearances1. Johnson (Birmingham).......2822. Carlisle (Burnley).................2613. Cahill (Bolton)......................227 Blocks1. Johnson (Birmingham).........352. Cahill (Bolton)........................233. Wilson (Portsmouth)............20 However, if it wasn't for some fine handiwork by Tomasz Kuszczak after the interval and referee Clattenburg's decision - correct as it turned out - to overrule his linesman on the equalising goal, this could have turned out to be a blue evening all round. Twenty-five thousand punters went home puzzled as to why the official overruled his linesman, but to his credit, the referee clarified matters after the final whistle, saying: 'A cross came in from Patrice Evra. The player from the home side scored the own goal. 'What the assistant referee saw was that Rooney was in an offside position. He quite correctly puts his flag up. 'He asked me whether Rooney had scored the goal. If Rooney had scored, he would have been given offside. As Rooney was two or three yards away, then he wasn't interfering with play.' I t was hard once more on the dynamic duo at the heart of Birmingham's defence that one of them, Scott Dann, should put through his own goal to equalise. Two weeks ago in Sportsmail, Andy Gray likened Dann and Roger Johnson to Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister and it was easy to see why. They have never watched great teams at St Andrew's. They value old-fashioned virtues like honesty, industry and guts. And they get it in bucketfuls with this mob, who cost the princely sum of £15million. To put it into perspective, that's one half of Dimitar Berbatov


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