When Manchester United travel to St Andrews on Tuesday night it will be on the eight anniversary of the first meeting between the two clubs since Birmingham City’s first ever season in the Premier League. It took place at Old Trafford on December 28, 2002 with manager Steve Bruce facing Sir Alex Ferguson in the dugouts for the first time since his departure as a United legend. He was to get no joy however as United took the points with a hard fought victory.
Manchester United 2 v Birmingham 0 Old Trafford, 28 December 2002
Simon Stone from PA Sport reports that “David Beckham capped his return to Barclaycard Premiership combat with a majestic chip to finish off Birmingham at Old Trafford. Manchester United’s magnificent number seven – starting for the first time in eight weeks after a rib injury – gave the home fans some belated Christmas cheer when he raced onto Juan Sebastian Veron’s through ball and then beat the advancing Nico Vaesen with a perfect finish from 25 yards.
The goal revived United’s flagging title hopes and applied some pressure to Arsenal ahead of their showdown with Liverpool at Anfield. But despite dominating much of the contest, United were forced to rely on Fabien Barthez for two sensational saves as Birmingham threatened an unlikely second half comeback. At that stage, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were trying to build on the lead given to them by Diego Forlan eight minutes before the break.
Handed another chance to impress in the absence of top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy with a toe injury, the Uruguayan produced a thunderous volley to send Beckham’s nod back crashing into the net. It should have been more, but the heroics of Vaesen and some scrambling by the Birmingham defence kept the visitors in the hunt before Barthez and Beckham combined to send Old Trafford legend Steve Bruce home empty handed.
The return of Bruce was a timely reminder of the glorious past United are seeking to rediscover after last year’s barren campaign. Yet the home fans, who warmly applauded one of their favourite sons, knew that if Bruce took anything back with him to the Midlands, their own title hopes would hinge on an unlikely Arsenal collapse.
Ferguson knew it too, which was presumably why he restored Beckham and Rio Ferdinand to his starting line-up, axing Laurent Blanc, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs in the process. The Red Devils free flowing start threatened to swamp Birmingham before they had adjusted themselves to a ground they had not visited for almost 17 years.
Roy Keane was denied a shooting chance when Paul Scholes’ excellent chip over the visitors’ defence struck him on the back as he beat the offside trap before Forlan broke the deadlock with his eighth goal of the season. Birmingham were on the ropes but somehow managed to avoid a knock-out punch, Veron and Keane again wasting chances, but not as bad as the one John O’Shea spurned when he side footed over from eight yards after Scholes’ shot from another Silvestre cross had been blocked.
Birmingham faces became sighs of resignation as Beckham’s majestic finish put an end to their attempted fight back. Ferdinand should have added a third but somehow managed to balloon a two yard shot high over the bar as he strode onto Beckham’s cross – but the extra insurance was not required as United strolled to the final whistle.
United went to St Andrews in February where van Nistelrooy grabbed the only goal of the game. A repeat of that result will most certainly be welcome by Ferguson on Tuesday night. Birmingham survived their first Premier League season fairly comfortably while United went on to win the title by five points from Arsenal.
Manchester United – Barthez, Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O’Shea, Beckham, Keane (Giggs 85), Veron, Scholes (Richardson 75), Forlan, Solskjaer (Phil Neville 76). Goals – Forlan 37, Beckham 73.
Birmingham City – Vaesen, Kenna, Cunningham (Powell 63), Michael Johnson, Sadler (Woodhouse 68), Devlin, Savage, Cisse, Lazaridis (Horsfield 50), Morrison, Kirovski.