Monday 27 March 2017

Dann's cruel own goal gets misfiring United out of jail

Birmingham 1
Manchester Utd 1

Birmingham City's Roger Johnson and Manchester United's Jonny Evans battle for the ball at St Andrews
Birmingham City's Roger Johnson and Manchester United's Jonny Evans battle for the ball at St Andrews

Sandy Macaskill at St Andrews

THIS was supposed to be destruction time. Alex Ferguson doesn't do losing, and the defeat to Leeds, in the FA Cup, had hurt. Sitting on the team bus to St Andrews, the Manchester United manager must have envisaged turning up, teaching one of his proteges a thing or two, and re-exerting his club's authority by returning to the top of the league.

The away supporters came expecting a rout. It didn't quite work like that. Each of United's seven defeats this season has been followed by a victory, but not for nothing are Birmingham second in the Premier League's form table, behind Arsenal. A combination of excellent defending and exceptional goalkeeping earned Alex McLeish's side another exceptional draw.

Under McLeish, Birmingham have become a solid unit. They tried to play, but a policy of containment was always going to be the more realistic. Forming a barricade around their goal from the first minute, they fought, relying on an opportunistic strike from Cameron Jerome to bring joy. For 60 minutes United's strike force crashed on the Birmingham back four as waves on a storm wall. Then it happened, Scott Dann equalising for United with an own goal.

Never mind. Birmingham extended their run of 11 matches unbeaten to 12, a club record. Teams have learnt that they must come to St Andrews and fight on the home side's terms. As such there was no place even on the bench for Dimitar Berbatov. Ferguson instead calling on the workmanlike Ji-Sung Park, Paul Scholes, making his first appearance since December, and Antonio Valencia.

It was with the winger that United sought to break down the Birmingham defence. His pace on the right had Liam Ridgewell in a twist and when Wayne Rooney escaped Stephen Carr in the 25th minute and clipped in a neat cross, Valencia was just inches away. A minute later, as Birmingham defenders' arms waved like over-eager schoolboys, pleading in vain for offside, Rooney was through. His first touch was excellent, but Hart smothered the danger.

Birmingham's problem has been at the opposite end. Their first promising attack came with the half-hour mark approaching, the United defence backpeddling as Jerome broke, but the move dissolved when his pass to Ridgewell was too heavy.

The home side's second attack came in the 38th minute, a Jerome shot deflecting off Scholes for a corner. James McFadden whipped in a corner, which was headed back into the box by a quick-thinking Lee Bowyer. Jonny Evans inadvertently knocked the ball to Jerome, who prodded in from point-blank range. To say St Andrews shook to its core would to be guilty of gross understatement.

Bridgehead established, one might have assumed Birmingham would strap on the tin hats and pull out the trenching tools. Instead they came out of the blocks for the second half all guns blazing, and almost won a second goal when Seb Larsson looped in a corner which Dann headed back towards goal. Chucho Benitez took it on his chest, and drew a reflex save from Tomas Kuszczak.

Ferguson, looking like something from the Book of Revelations, then had to watch as his side opened up again under another Birmingham break, Jerome attempting to chip the 'keeper when Benitez was begging for the easy ball inside. How Jerome would be punished, and how the momentum would change.

Rooney's shot in the 63rd minute deflected away to Valencia. The low cross came in and Dann, sliding in to clear, diverted the ball into his own net. Cue pandemonium. Referee Mark Clattenburg held back from awarding the goal, checking for verification from his linesman. St Andrews swelled with hope, then deflated when Clattenburg indicated that the goal stood. Squeeky-bum time for Birmingham fans, for certain.

All the noise seeped away as supporters looked on through parted fingers. Suddenly Benitez was spinning in the box and forcing Kuszczak to save. Oh so close. Neither side could make it happen, but McLeish won't mind. A new club record, and keeping his end up against his former mentor. Ferguson might be a knight of the realm, but McLeish wouldn't swap this draw for a peerage.

© Telegraph

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