Monday, August 17, 2009

Winning Start

Monday, August 17, 2009
Man Utd 1-0 Birmingham

A first-half goal from Wayne Rooney proved to be enough for Manchester United to commence their Premier League campaign with victory over Birmingham City this afternoon.

The striker netted from close range just after the half-hour mark after his header had rebounded off of the post, and despite having a flurry of chances had to settle for a single goal win over the newly-promoted away side.

First Half

Manchester United as expected started strongly, as pushed Alex McLeish’s men back into their own territory. The former Rangers and Scotland boss set his side up in a rigid 4-5-1 formation, designed to frustrate and stifle their hosts, but United inevitably still managed to create opportunities.

Wayne Rooney, who appears to be revelling in his new central role, linked well with strike partner Dimitar Berbatov in the opening exchanges, and the Englishman crafted the first effort on goal, curling a beautiful shot towards Joe Hart’s top left hand corner, but the ‘keeper used all of his agility to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Nani and Valencia also had half chance inside the area as The Red Devils turned the screw, but Birmingham managed to weather the early storm, and began to look dangerous themselves.

James McFadden cut in from the left wing with intent, and with no challenge forthcoming from Jonny Evans, in for the injured Rio Ferdinand, McFadden curled a strike towards the corner but his radar was slightly off as the ball skidded past the post.

Sir Alex Ferguson would have been weary that his side generally start the season slowly, having drawn on the opening day in their previous two seasons, and as the match wore on there was a lack of fluency in their passing and movement as they hunted for that elusive opener.

But as Birmingham drifted deeper and deeper into their own territory, chances began to come. Nani flicked a poor effort over the bar from inside the area, when he perhaps should have did better, and moments later the Portuguese dropped a precision delivery onto the head of Wayne Rooney. His header crashed against the post, but landed straight back at the 23-year old’s feet, and he gleefully tapped home his 99th goal in the red of Manchester United.

The away side were not overwhelmed by falling behind, however. Cameron Jerome, deployed in the lone striking role, rocketed a shot toward goal that nicked the heel of Evans before whizzing centimetres wide of Foster’s right post. From the resulting corner, defender Franck Queudrue rose highest and looked for all the world to have levelled, but Patrice Evra showed all of his athleticism to nod the ball off the line, denying a certain goal.

But the champions created the last goalmouth incident of the half, and should have doubled their advantage. The enterprising Evra broke into the area on the goal-line, slipping the ball perfectly in the path of Darren Fletcher, but the midfielder skewed his effort woefully wide with the goal at his mercy.

Second Half

Fletcher’s miss meant that Birmingham retained hope of fashioning a route back into the match, and throughout the second half they gave Ben Foster a number of unsure moments. McFadden drilled in a low shot from the edge of the area, while Irish midfielder Keith Fahey fired a speculative strike agonisingly wide of the upright.

United had their chances too, however. Rooney was in mercurial form, and at the heart of everything positive in his side’s display. He almost hit a goal of the season contender, lashing a volley goalwards, only for Hart to once again deny him. Berbatov had a header cleared off the line as the Red Devils strived to put the game out of sight.

But Birmingham introduced record signing Christian Benitez, and the Ecuador international almost became an instant hero. He sold John O’Shea a dummy inside the area but attempted to place his shot into the corner and Foster brilliantly tipped the ball to safety.

Manchester United were shaken by almost surrendering their lead, but try as they might they could not find that clinching goal. Excellent work from Giggs created an opening for Rooney, but he could only glance his header wide of the post.

Michael Owen arrived for the final fifteen minutes, and was given a dream chance to open his competitive account for United, but could not place his shot past the outstretched leg of Hart, who made another excellent stop.

In the end though United settled for the 1-0 win, and while their performance was hardly vintage it represents a winning start for Sir Alex Ferguson's side in the defence of their title.

Others result

Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan
Blackburn 0-2 Man City
Bolton 0-1 Sunderland
Chelsea 2-1 Hull City
Everton 1-6 Arsenal
Man Utd 1-0 Birmingham
Portsmouth 0-1 Fulham
Stoke City 2-0 Burnley
Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool
Wolves 0-2 West Ham