Man Utd 3 Birmingham 0
By Mark Buckingham
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Blues headed into this fixture without conceding a goal on their travels this term but after Maik Taylor's sending off, they could not contain the threat of their hosts, whose goals arrived courtesy of a Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
The tempo of the encounter barely stepped above walking pace in the first half with Birmingham demonstrating the defensive stubbornness which has been their hallmark this season.
The champions struggled to find a rhythm despite dominating possession and their first menacing effort arrived on 15 minutes when Scholes drilled straight at Taylor from the corner of the box.
Scholes's header from Gary Neville's cross was also into the arms of Taylor while the England midfielder twisted and turned in the box but fired once again at the Blues keeper.
The turning point of the contest came with ten minutes of the first half remaining when van Nistelrooy's perceptive pass released Scholes in the box, who nudged the ball beyond the slow-to-react Taylor and came crashing down under the Northern Ireland international's challenge.
Referee Mike Dean had little alternative but to send off Taylor and substitute keeper Ian Bennett's first touch was to pick the ball out of the back of the net after van Nistelrooy tucked the spot kick into the bottom corner.
Birmingham wasted a superb opportunity to equalise early in the second period when full back Jamie Clapham advanced into the area on to a wayward United pass but shot tamely at Tim Howard, who deflected the ball clear with his legs.
But that five minute spell was all Blues had to offer as an attacking force and the hosts grabbed their second goal on 57 minutes through the effervescent Scholes, who smashed the ball low into the corner after being given too much space on the edge of the box.
Van Nistelrooy fluffed a great opportunity to add to his tally when blasting straight at Bennett while The Red Devils afforded themselves the luxury of bringing off Roy Keane for Diego Forlan.
The substitute had a hand in the third goal when he fed Ryan Giggs, with the visiting defence once more slack in their marking, and the Welsh winger fired into the far corner beyond Bennett.