Dann shame for McLeish as United survive

Birmingham City 1 Manchester United 1: Defender's own goal deprives Birmingham while Ferguson hits out at referee's 'weird' decisions

The most even Premier League in memory continued on its merry way last night as Manchester United, having retained second place because of Arsenal's failure to win at home, became the latest contenders to find Birmingham City obdurate opposition. Despite having most of the ball for long spells, the visitors fell behind shortly before half-time and required an own goal to equalise as Birmingham appealed unsuccessfully for offside. So if a sixth League defeat was avoided, the opportunity to overtake Chelsea at the top of the table for the first time since October was spurned.

Having failed in the first half to take advantage of abundant possession, the champions found themselves vulnerable to counter-attack later on by the home side's lively pair Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez. Losing Darren Fletcher to a second yellow card with six minutes to play caused further anxiety, although it was Birmingham's supporters and coaching staff who groaned and complained when six minutes of added "Fergie time" were indicated.

Their team had shown all their renowned dogged qualities, exemplified by the combative Lee Bowyer, in reaching a record 12th match unbeaten at this level and delighting Alex McLeish, who once served under Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen. "The second half was much better after we gave Manchester United far too much respect," he said. "These guys have a collective spirit that far outweighs individual ability, the best I've ever worked with. Another fantastic performance by our lads."

Ferguson gave due credit to his old centre-half, but none to the referee Mark Clattenburg after Fletcher's dismissal for a trip on Jerome that followed a bad lunge through the back of Bowyer. "I've not seen a softer sending off for a long time, it was absolutely ridiculous," he said. "I watched Mark Clattenburg at the Arsenal-Spurs game and you had to have somebody hit by an axe to get booked. There were some weird and wonderful decisions out there."

Birmingham's consistency has enabled McLeish to field an unchanged team for nine successive League games. Each unit is consequently well drilled, only Chelsea have conceded fewer goals, and it was individual mistakes rather than organisational failure that allowed United their scoring opportunities in dominating the first half.

There was never any chance of Ferguson keeping the same team after such a feeble failure against Leeds in the FA Cup; he has not done that for 100 matches in a row. There were seven alterations this time, those culled including Gary Neville, Anderson and Dimitar Berbatov, while Michael Owen was still left to shiver in the dug-out. Nemanja Vidic, injured in the warm-up last weekend, will not return for at least 10 days and Rio Ferdinand is a further fortnight away. For almost 40 minutes, their replacements, Wes Brown and Jonny Evans, macho centre-backs in short sleeves, coped comfortably, only to be caught out entirely against the run of play.

From Birmingham's first corner – it had taken them 38 minutes – Bowyer won a header and although Evans blocked the ball, it fell perfectly for Jerome to bang in.

United had been unable to profit from defensive errors by Barry Ferguson, Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell, the product of which was a single save by Joe Hart as Wayne Rooney's deft touch brought down the pass from Antonio Valencia. Tomasz Kuszczak, even more untroubled until the goal, had work to do in the second half in making saves from Benitez twice – once after a superb turn between two defenders – and Roger Johnson.

Jerome had a glorious chance in a three-against-two break, but his chip was neither fish nor fowl, eluding his two team-mates as well as the goal. Within three minutes United were deservedly level. Deservedly but controversially; Rooney and Paul Scholes had shots blocked in characteristically brave fashion by defenders, Patrice Evra drove over a low cross-shot and with the referee's assistant wrongly indicating that at least one attacker and possibly two were offside, the unfortunate Scott Dann deflected the ball into his own net. The referee briefly raised home hopes by running across to consult the assistant but then shattered them by indicating a goal.

Belatedly it had become a vibrant, open game on a difficult pitch. There was another twist as Fletcher was dismissed after hanging out his leg to stop Jerome and each goalkeeper then made one last save to keep the balance of accounts level.

Attendance: 28,907

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Man of the match: Bowyer

Match rating: 6/10

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice