Manchester United 3 0 Birmingham City

Saturday 4th October
Old Trafford, Manchester

Manchester United played hosts to a Birmingham City side who were unbeaten in the league, and sitting just three places behind the reds in the FA Premier League. The end score flatters a United performance which saw them gently ease past their battling opponents.

The game began evenly with both teams choosing to play attacking football in search of an early goal. United probably created the best opportunities, but neither team was able to convert them.

Predictably (Against Birmingham), the game started to turn into something of a midfield battle. With Keane and Phil Neville in the Reds midfield, it as always going to be a battle that Birmingham were going to lose - particularly without their best defensive midfielder - Robbie Savage - being out of action through injury.

Though United began to control the game, they failed to produce the sparkling form that brushed away the likes of Leicester City. Instead, it took a sending off and a penalty to set United on their way to another victory.

When United's Paul Scholes charged into the box to control the ball, Maik Taylor, the Birmingham City goalkeeper brought him down. The referee had little option but to award a penalty, and to show Taylor the red card.

Van Nistelrooy sent the substitute keeper the wrong way, so that Ian Bennett's first job after being substituted on was to pick the ball out of his net. Van Nistelrooy ran off in delight at having been able to score penalties once more.

The sending off proved to be the turning point of the game. With ten men, Birmingham seemed less able to compete in midfield, and the game was slowly dominated by United, who patiently passed the ball around in search of more goals.

The second goal finally came ten minutes into the second half, with Scholes drilling the ball home from about 25 yards out. That allowed Sir Alex the breathing space he required, and meant he could give Butt and Forlan a chance to make an impression on the game.

Indeed, Forlan, who had been so hapless against Stuttgart in the Champions League in midweek, set up United's third and best goal. He played a perfectly weighted ball through the Birmingham defence to Ryan Giggs. Forlan's vision and awareness afforded Giggs as much time and space as he needed to calmly slot the ball into the back of the net.

Though the match was as good as won by United, Birmingham still didn't give up. Instead Steve Bruce's side pushed forward in search of some consolation from their solid defensive display. They tested Howard once or twice, but failed to get the ball past him.

This was United's fifth clean sheet of the eight-game league campaign: a sign perhaps that United still have one of the strongest defences, if not the strongest, in England.

At the end of the game, United hadn't impressed, but they had secured another vital three points in the league, and managed to grind out a result against a quality side even without performing at their highest. And that is the mark of true champions.

Man Utd: Howard; Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Fortune; Scholes, Keane (Forlan, 66), P Neville (Butt, 71) Fletcher; van Nistelrooy, Giggs.

Birmingham City: Taylor; Johnson, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Dunn, Cisse, Clemence (Tebily, 79), Lazaridis (Bennett, 34); Dugarry (Carter, 66), Forssell.

Attendance: 67533