Thursday 2 February 2017

Man United's Top Four hopes dented as brave Hull cling on for point in goalless stalemate

After Hull had beaten Manchester United in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final – a result that was not enough to send them to Wembley – Jose Mourinho announced that, as far he was concerned, the match had been drawn.

This, played for Premier League points, was definitely a draw. It was Manchester United’s third in succession and it inflicted more damage on the club’s attempt to force its way into the top four. This looks like a club that might have to get used to the Europa League.

As far as Hull’s manager, Marco Silva, was concerned this was a draw that should have been a win – which would have been their first at Old Trafford in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. With a few minutes remaining, Hull broke away and with Chris Smalling in front of him, Lazar Markovic, whom Liverpool once thought worth £20m, curled it round the defender, leaving David de Gea stranded. The ball struck the post.

This was the third meeting between these sides in three weeks and there was rather too much familiarity with each other’s game. Hull played like they had done at Old Trafford in the League Cup semi-final, sitting back, surrendering space and waiting for an opportunity.

It says a lot that the two chances they had before the game reached its death throes came from Harry Maguire, a centre-back who loves to attack but does, nevertheless, have the finishing qualities of a centre half.

The first was a free-kick from Evandro Goebel that Maguire, stooping low, met at the far post having easily eluded his marker, Paul Pogba. The header scuttled past the post.

The second was a repeat of the charge forward that Maguire had employed in the semi-final, although the shot was more of a drop-goal attempt that landed high in the Stretford End. Given that Hull had scored one away goal in the Premier League since mid-October and had sold the man who scored it, Robert Snodgrass, perhaps we should not have expected too much.

Manchester United may have controlled possession but Mourinho would have pondered his side’s constant inability to turn dominance into goals. As they had been in too many first halves, Manchester United were far too slow. At the restart Mourinho added to the already considerable firepower by bringing on Wayne Rooney for Michael Carrick. Anthony Martial might have been an option but since he did not join in the warm-up he would not have been expected to play. It says something for the way Manchester United were playing that by the time the game was 61 minutes old Mourinho had used up his substitutes.

Hull had at times defended extremely well. In the early exchanges Andrew Robertson took the ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan just as he was steading himself to shoot. Then Tom Huddlestone, who had been forced to play centre half during the League Cup semi-final, found himself in his own penalty area hemmed in by red shirts. His response was to turn and accelerate away like a Porsche escaping heavy traffic.

Manchester United had chances but they should have had so much more. A fast, hard back-heel from Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent Pogba through on goal. Eldin Jakupovic saved a fierce shot with his fingertips and punched the air in satisfaction.

Zlatan always seemed the greatest threat to Hull’s determination to return home with a point and after Rooney had missed kick at a ball bouncing in the Hull area, Ibrahimovic swivelled and shot hard into the advertising screens. In the 73rd minute, Eldin Jakupovic blocked what should have been a tap-in from Juan Mata on his own goal-line. It was the save of the match that finished with a one-handed parry to block a drive from Pogba.

Some of the football was irredeemably poor. In the first half, Oumar Niasse, who was fortunate not to be sent off when, already booked, he launched himself into a challenge on Daley Blind, played the ball along the touchline. Thinking it would go out, Niasse gave up. It stayed it play and then Marcos Rojo promptly put it out. It was that sort of game.


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