Rooney makes the difference
Manchester United began their title defence with a victory as they clinched a 1-0 win over Birmingham at Old Trafford. United applied all the early pressure and they eventually made a breakthrough when Wayne Rooney turned the ball home in the 34th minute after his initial header had struck the post. Birmingham could have been level almost instantly as Cameron Jerome and Franck Queudrue both went close, and United had a chance of their own as Darren Fletcher passed up a glorious opportunity on the stroke of half-time. In the second half, Dimitar Berbatov saw an effort cleared off the line as well as a penalty appeal rejected while new boys Christian Benitez and Michael Owen were denied by the goalkeepers at either end. Yet neither team was able to find the net and the champions came away with a narrow victory. There was a sense of change around Old Trafford after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, and the line-up was even more unfamiliar due to the absence of Rio Ferdinand with a thigh injury, meaning a first Premier League start for Fabio and the captain's armband for John O'Shea. Despite the absence of Ronaldo, the hosts created plenty of chances, fuelling a belief that they can become a more rounded team in the Portugal star's absence. Nani looked to have been injected with a fresh dose of confidence during last week's Community Shield encounter with Chelsea and, while the winger was not quite as effective this time out, his direct running caused Birmingham problems. Had he put his shooting boots on, though, United would have been in front before Rooney struck as he scooped a disappointing shot over from Patrice Evra's cut-back. But it was left to Rooney to make the breakthrough and the striker was involved in the build-up to the goal, too, linking up with Berbatov to release Nani down the left. Rooney climbed above Queudrue to reach the teasing cross and, although his header bounced back off the post, he was perfectly positioned to tap home the rebound. Birmingham's response was spirited and, after Jerome's shot had flicked off Paul Scholes, Queudrue thought he had equalised from the corner, only for Evra to nod his header off the line. It was a sporadic flurry of attacking play from the visitors, who were thankful not to be further behind at the break given Evra set up Fletcher with a clear chance in stoppage time, only for the new Scotland skipper to steer his shot wide when it looked easier to score. Having come so close in the final seconds of one half, United nearly doubled their lead in the opening moments of the next. When the ball bounced invitingly 30 yards out, Rooney could not resist the temptation to let fly, drawing a good save from the impressive Joe Hart. Birmingham boss Alex McLeish moved to give some more attacking impetus to his side in the 75th minute as he introduced Benitez, and the 23-year-old Ecuador star almost made an instant impact. Stepping inside Wes Brown, with a clear sight of goal, he opened out his body out and went for the far corner, but Ben Foster flung himself in the same direction, flicking the ball away to keep his side in the game. At the other end, United substitute Owen did have the ball in the net once, but it was rightly flagged offside. He was most certainly onside, however, when he raced onto Rooney's chested through ball in stoppage time, but he was denied by another fine save from Hart.
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