Rooney Leads Man U To Victory

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LONDON (AP) -- Wayne Rooney fired defending champion Manchester United to a 1-0 victory over promoted Birmingham in its opening Premier League game on Sunday.

The England striker headed a cross from Nani against the post and the ball came back for him to tap into an empty net in the 34th minute at Old Trafford. United is trying to become the first topflight English team to win the league title four seasons in a row.

"We created plenty of chances to win the game and thankfully we came out with the three points," Rooney said. "While it was 1-0 there was still a chance (Birmingham) could get a result. The first games of the season are always difficult."

Michael Owen came on as a substitute for the last 16 minutes and should have marked his first Premier League appearance for United with a goal in injury time when he broke clear of the Birmingham defense from Rooney's flick-on, but his shot was deflected wide by Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart.

"Owen made a great run and the keeper made a great save," said United manager Alex Ferguson. "But he will get his goals, no question about that.

"I know some of our supporters are still worried that I have not bought a megastar to replace Cristiano (Ronaldo)," Ferguson said. "They are concerned because they can't quite work out how we are going to compensate for all the goals Cristiano used to get for us. But I am more than happy with our squad and although we have lost a major player, I believe we are on the threshold of a very exciting era for Manchester United."

United opened the campaign without regular center backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Vidic was already ruled out with a calf muscle injury but Ferdinand pulled out with a thigh injury which Ferguson said could sideline him for two weeks.

Although Birmingham went close to scoring three times and United goalkeeper Ben Foster made a top quality one-handed save to keep out Christian Benitez's shot in the 78th minute, Alex Ferguson's team should have won by a wider margin.

Darren Fletcher missed the target from close range just before halftime, Hart saved a 30-meter shot from Rooney and Lee Carsley cleared off the line from Dimitar Berbatov in the second half before the Bulgarian was replaced by Owen with 16 minutes to go. Minutes earlier Berbatov, appeared to be tripped inside the area by Stephen Carr.

Sunday's other game between Tottenham and Liverpool kicks off later.

Arsenal's 6-1 victory at Everton was the highlight performance of Saturday's opening day, captain Cesc Fabregas netting twice and defender Thomas Vermaelen scoring on his debut.

Manchester City justified its big preseason spending with a 2-0 victory at Blackburn thanks to a third minute strike by one of the new signings, Emmanuel Adebayor, while Didier Drogba scored twice for Chelsea, including an injury time winner, in a 2-1 victory over Hull.

In Saturday's other games, Wigan won 2-0 at Aston Villa, West Ham triumphed 2-0 at promoted Wolves, Fulham beat Portsmouth 1-0, Sunderland won 1-0 at Bolton and Stoke beat promoted Burnley 2-0.