Manchester United 1 Birmingham City 0
Auguries for Birmingham City kicking off 2008 in victorious style were not good.
Their recent record at Old Trafford and the fact Manchester United lost their final game of last year conspired against Alex McLeish's men.
Blues have not won here since 1978. Indeed, they have not even scored a league goal at the home of the biggest club in England since Frank Worthington beat Gary Bailey in 1981. For City, this venue not so much an unhappy hunting ground as utterly barren. And so it proved yesterday. Carlos Tevez's eighth Premier League goal of the season, midway through the first half, was enough to ensure the champions resumed their pursuit of a tenth title in 15 years.
For Birmingham, the rather more mundane but no less pressing matter of survival continues. They have an FA Cup sideshow at Huddersfield Town on Saturday but then resume their campaign against Arsenal and Chelsea.
Yet they can take heart from this display. On another day United might have rattled in three or four but similarly Birmingham might have stolen an equaliser late on as the hosts ran low on ideas.
Before that City were put under large amounts of pressure for long spells but courtesy of Maik Taylor, the goal frame and some decisive blocks and tackles they left with their pride not just in tact but enhanced.
McLeish, up against his former Aberdeen manager Sir Alex Ferguson, opted to acquiesce with Mikael Forssell's pre-match wishes by eschewing his recent tactic of playing Cameron Jerome up front on his own away from home and deployed two strikers.
Unfortunately for the Finn it was Garry O'Connor and not him who was given the opportunity to impress.
Nevertheless Blues were lined up as a tight and compact unit and they acquitted themselves reasonably well in the opening 45 minutes. United's movement off the ball was energetic rather than mesmerising and as a result they were a degree or two short of their best.
That enabled the visitors' defenders to stay with their runners, squeeze space close to their area and limit the number of sightings United had of Taylor's goal.
At the other end they simmered rather than boiled and owed most of their most promising positions to the increasing comfort of Jerome and the industry of Gary McSheffrey.
Twice winger McSheffrey popped up in the left corner of the penalty box with sufficient room to inflict damage. Sadly for both player and team the result was the same on both occasions, a sliced ball ballooned into the Stretford End.
While McSheffrey had Blues' clearest first period openings both of United's fell to Tevez.
The Argentine might have opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Patrice Evra got round Stephen Kelly and found his team-mate's head. Tevez rose well but his downward effort cannoned off Taylor's post.
The goalkeeper, in his 150th league appearance for the club, was not so lucky 20 minutes later, though Blues felt the hosts should have stopped play for Jerome to receive treatment.
The young striker took a knock challenging for the ball with Rio Ferdinand and remained down as the home side played on and picked out Tevez who hooked on for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese produced a sublime back heel that sent Tevez clean through and the striker finished coolly inside the upright he had previously struck. It was a goal to make Ferguson purr and McLeish frown. The former
West Ham man took his chance supremely well but McLeish will wonder why three of his back four were nowhere to be seen as the attacker steamed through.
That was about the only defensive glitch. United continued to pour forward after the break and once more Tevez found the upright rather than the net.
Slightly less than an hour had passed when he fell to the ground in the area and trapped the ball between his feet. He was soon back up and wriggled himself into a shooting position, only to hit the post again.
The rebound broke to Ronaldo who weaved his way into the six-yard box, only to shoot against McSheffrey.
United sustained their examination of Franck Queudrue's left flank and the solidity of the Liam Ridgewell and Radhi Jaidi partner-ship through the middle. Most of the time the Birmingham found a finger to plug the leak.
With 25 minutes to go, as Jerome tired, Forssell was introduced and he might have stolen a share of the spoils.
His best opening came with a quarter of an hour remaining when Daniel De Ridder's square ball found him 18 yards out.
Unfortunately his contact was poor and he scuffed his shot wide of Tomasz Kuszczak's goal. The wait to take anything from Old Trafford went on.