LOUIS SAHA kept alive Manchester United's hopes of securing an automatic Champions League spot with a late winner at St Andrew's.

The former Fulham player put the icing on a second-half revival by Alex Ferguson's side with a 78th-minute goal.

It means Birmingham are still without a win on home soil against the Red Devils in nearly 26 years. Steve Bruce's side had deservedly led at the interval through Martin Grainger but Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled out that effort as United dominated the second 45 minutes.

Robbie Savage had fuelled the flames before the game by claiming that United had some "average players" and had not effectively replaced David Beckham.

And Birmingham were certainly the better side in the opening 45 minutes as United struggled to recapture the form which had seen them dispose of Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final.

The Blues had the better chances and could easily have gone in at the interval with more than a one-goal lead.

But it was a different story after the break and the introduction of Ronaldo sparked the Red Devils into life.

He headed the equaliser within five minutes of entering the action ? a goal set up by Ryan Giggs who also delivered the free-kick for Saha's decider 12 minutes from time.

United began promisingly and fit-again Saha had a halfchance on the edge of the penalty area but Matthew Upson was able to block his shot on the turn.

Birmingham suffered a setback after 13 minutes when left-back Stan Lazaridis appeared to catch his studs in the pitch was taken off on a stretcher.

The home side then stepped up a gear and twice came close to breaking the deadlock in a 60-second spell.

First United keeper Roy Carroll blocked a powerful effort by Bryan Hughes who had cut in from the left after Mikael Forssell had set up the chance.

But the United keeper was relieved as an effort from the edge of the area by Savage crashed against the crossbar.

Birmingham were on top and United had another escape when an inswinging free-kick from Savage was only half cleared to Stephen Clemence.

But instead of volleying first time, he waited for the ball to drop and his eventual lob went just over the bar.

United briefly threatened when a first-time flick from Scholes over the Blues defence almost played in Saha but he was at full stretch and could only divert his shot wide.

Forssell was posing problems to the United defence and a first-time shot was only just past Carroll's right-hand post after Hughes had found him in space.

Then in the 39th minutes St Andrews erupted as Grainger put Blues ahead with a 30-yard free-kick.

Carroll should have done better as he got both hands to the left-footed effort which he parried onto the post only for it to rebound into the net.

It was the first goal Birmingham had scored against the Red Devils in four attempts since returning to the top flight.

Ferguson would have been looking for a positive response after an inept firsthalf display and Saha wasted a golden opportunity in the first 60 seconds.

Scholes teed up the former Fulham player 15 yards from goal but his shot flew high over Maik Taylor's goal. Taylor then went down low to hold onto a dipping drive from Scholes .

The ex-Fulham keeper produced a superb save to tip over a close-range header from Saha after Silvestre had flicked on a Giggs corner.

But United were not to be denied and after 61 minutes Ronaldo levelled with a header which flew past Taylor following a Giggs centre.

Giggs then screwed a low shot inches wide of Taylor's far post after good play involving Scholes and Saha.

The pressure was mounting and another Ronaldo header was blocked before Giggs set up the winner for Saha.

His inswinging free-kick was perfectly placed and weighted for the Frenchman to send an unstoppable header past Taylor.