Dimitar Berbatov treble helps keep Man United in pole position
Red Devils remain two points clear at the top of the Premier League after demolishing Birmingham City
Dimitar Berbatov’s third hat-trick of the season helped Manchester United demolish tame Birmingham City at Old Trafford.
The Bulgarian forward put the hosts ahead after just two minutes before doubling his side’s lead on the half-hour mark. Ryan Giggs then added a third on the stroke of half-time before Berbatov completed his hat-trick. Nani was then left to round off proceedings, scoring his seventh goal of the season 15 minutes from time.
Blues boss Alex McLeish opted for a defensive formation and appeared content to try and contain the league leaders with one eye on his side’s midweek League Cup semi-final second-leg against West Ham.
But United took the lead within just two minutes. John O’Shea capitalised upon careless marking as he escaped to the front post and deflected Giggs’ corner into the path of Berbatov, who simply nodded into an empty net to give home side the perfect start and instantly force McLeish to re-evaluate his tactics.
United were comfortable in possession throughout, with Anderson, Michael Carrick, Giggs and Nani exchanging passes in midfield with moderate ease.
The visitors were limited to audacious attempts on goal from outside United’s penalty area. Birmingham’s lone striker, Matt Derbyshire, was given little support from his team-mates and any threat posed was easily tempered by Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling.
United doubled their lead after the visitors surrendered possession in midfield. Wayne Rooney drove forward and unselfishly teed-up his strike partner Berbatov – the Bulgarian firing a rasping right-footed effort past three lunging defenders and Ben Foster in goal.
And deep into first-half added time the home side ended the game as a contest. Delightful interplay between Rooney and Berbatov created space for the England international on the right wing. Rooney then delivered a low cross which was met by unmarked Giggs at the far post, and the Welsh international duly fired home his 158th goal for the Red Devils.
Birmingham immediately threw on Cameron Jerome, providing Derbyshire with some much-needed assistance in attack after Smalling and Vidic’s trouble-free first half.
But the early change had little effect on the momentum of the match as Rooney nodded wide of the inside post after good work by Nani on the right.
Berbatov’s third of the afternoon was unglamorous but effective. Edwin Van der Sar’s clearance was collected by Rooney who found Giggs in the penalty area, with Bebatov simply poking home the 37-year-old’s cross.
United continued to press with Berbatov coming close to adding to his three-goal haul as he glanced a shot past Foster’s goal before Nani got the fifth as he angled a low drive into the right corner of the Birmingham net.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was full of praise for Berbatov after the final whistle. “It was a marvellous performance from Dimitar,” said Ferguson. “He could have scored more. We were a bit wasteful with our finishing at times but you can’t complain at the performance.”
And Ferguson hailed an important win in their chase for a 19th league title. He added: “It certainly helps the goal difference, there is no question about that.
“We have some tough games ahead but hopefully the players can grasp the nettle. We have some experience. We have the squad. Hopefully we can manage all the games we have ahead.”