Premier League – Disputed goal denies United

Lee Bowyer hit a controversial late equaliser as Birmingham City drew 1-1 with Manchester United in the Premier League at St Andrew’s.

The midfielder slid home from close range with a minute of normal time remaining, but only after Nikola Zigic used his arm to knock the ball down.

Dimitar Berbatov had given United the lead on 58 minutes, and although they return to the top of the table on goal difference and end the year unbeaten, Sir Alex Ferguson‘s side will feel aggrieved after drawing their seventh Premier League game out of eight away from home.

A draw was probably the right result as Birmingham delivered a vigorous, organised performance with the visitors some way below their fluent best.

Birmingham’s preparation time for this game was two weeks – United’s just two days.

And Ferguson surprisingly named 10 of the players who started the Boxing Day win against Sunderland. The only change was enforced, as Darron Gibson replaced the Asian Cup-bound Park Ji-Sung.

Having seen Manchester City make five changes for the 4-0 drubbing of Aston Villa that sent them top, Ferguson may have lamented his relative lack of squad depth, particularly with Nani injured and Wayne Rooney hopelessly out of sorts.

Rooney, who is still without a goal from open play this season, was shunted on to the left flank with Ryan Giggs unusually lining up on the right.

Rooney continues to cut a miserable figure, and hit several shots well off target while displaying a ragged first touch.

Can seven months of substandard performances really be called a ‘dip in form’, or is this just the player Wayne Rooney has become?

The closest either side came in the first half was from a fluke – Giggs crossed right-footed and his delivery threatened to loop over Ben Foster into the far corner, but the goalkeeper was just able to touch the ball onto the post.

Although the eventual save was impressive, Foster should not have had to make it, getting himself into trouble with questionable positioning when the cross was first hit.

Birmingham entered the game in 18th place, but did not look like relegation fodder as they played with organisation and purpose.

Craig Gardner, Barry Ferguson and Bowyer were typically feisty in midfield, while striker Cameron Jerome caused Nemanja Vidic some hairy moments – not least when the Serbian was booked for hauling the attacker down after getting beaten for pace.

Early in the second half, Gardner thrashed a volley goalwards but found the arms of Edwin van der Sar.

Then United took the lead as they finally attacked with some pace – Berbatov exchanged passes with Gibson and fired a low shot inside the near post.

Two minutes later he nearly repeated the trick, showing superb skill to beat Liam Ridgewell, but this time his shot came back off the post.

But Birmingham stayed in the game, and their pressure paid off late on. Zigic knocked the ball down for Bowyer, who slid the ball home from close range.

Van der Sar protested furiously at what he saw as a clear handball by Zigic – to make matters worse for United there may also have been an offside and a foul on Rio Ferdinand for good measure.

But the goal stood, and Birmingham salvaged a point.

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