Blues 1- Manchester Utd 2

Last updated : 18 April 2004 By Brian Cartlidge

Blues had every reason to be disappointed with the result after producing a fine performance but they were beaten by a United side which struggled for a long time to get into gear.

United lifted themselves in the second half and are now on course to finish runners-up to Arsenal, but Blues are now concerned that their season could finish on a sour note.

From the high of defeating Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final Manchester United returned to their routine league programme in the full knowledge that they cannot now make up the Premiership leeway on the Gunners.

In the absence of Roy Keane and Ruud Van Nistelrooy the Old Trafford club were an ordinary looking team in the first half as Blues, showing commitment and endeavour, battled bravely to take the game to the opposition and were justifiably rewarded when substitute Martin Grainger gave them the lead from 37th minute direct from a free-kick.

But the unfortunate Grainger, who has been plagued with injuries over the last 18 months, failed to appear for the second half when he too was replaced by Jamie Clapham.

In the pre-match rumbles Blues manager, Steve Bruce, claimed that the often controversial Robbie Savage had been "stitched-up" by the national press for his adverse comments about Manchester United.

Savage was apparently not put out of his stride by events of the last few days as he was obviously determined to make an impact against one of his old clubs.

His all-out action did not please United manager Ferguson, who was concerned that Savage was often winning most of his tackles and in the process putting the Old Trafford side out of their stride.

Blues, however, suffered a set-back as early as the 12th minute when Lazaridis was stretchered off after turning awkwardly following a tackle by Paul Scholes.

Bryan Hughes tested Roy Carroll after being put clear by Mikael Forssell, while Stephen Clemence wasted a good opportunity with United's defence on the wrong foot from Savage's free-kick.

In sharp contrast United failed to have a single shot on or off target in a lacklustre first half and could have had few complaints when they went into arrears in the 37th minute.

Savage, who had earlier hit the crossbar with a speculative shot, won a free-kick in an incident involving Scholes. But it was Grainger who hammered his shot into the roof of the net.

United lifted their game in the second half and it corresponded with the belated introduction of Ronaldo.

In the 56th minute a Ryan Giggs cross was flicked on to Louis Saha to see his header flicked over the bar by Maik Taylor.

Inspired by this effort a minute later Giggs floated over a cross which the purposeful Ronaldo headed past Taylor for United's equaliser as they posted their intentions to put Blues under greater pressure than in the first half.

United had their chances and no-one more so than Saha. The striker, recruited from Fulham, came alive in the second period.

Kenny Cunningham, who had kept Saha in his pocket for the opening 45 minutes, suddenly found the Frenchman a different proposition.

Although he failed to take advantage of a bad clearance by Matt Upson and then saw a shot blocked by Martin Taylor he could not be denied and put United ahead in the 78th minute with a flashing header from a Giggs free-kick on the right.

Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo - demonstrated his class when Sir Alex Ferguson sent him on early in the second half. His pace and skill lifted United out of the doldrums and transformed their performance.