EFL CUP SEMI FINAL 1ST LEG: MANCHESTER UNITED WITH ONE FOOT IN FINAL AFTER BEATING HULL 2-0
It wasn’t Wayne Rooney’s night and he will have to wait at least four more days for his record breaking Manchester United goal. More importantly, it wasn’t Hull City’s night either and that was somewhat less surprising.
For the record, Rooney had one good chance to pass Sir Bobby Charlton’s United scoring record. It came just before Juan Mata opened the scoring for the home team and the ball missed its intended target by about an inch. Within minutes Rooney was substituted, rested ahead of Sunday’s Premier League game with Liverpool here.
But what of Hull City? Poor Hull. They came here with too few players to even fill the substitutes’ bench and a severe shortage of supporters too. And this for a cup semi-final.
These are hard times in East Riding of Yorkshire and, sitting in the directors’ box, former manager Steve Bruce must have been glad he left last summer. Bruce may be managing in the Championship now but at least Aston Villa are a club that may soon move forwards.
Hull do not look to have much of a future. Not in the Premier League and not in this competition either. They lost by only two goals here and so will theoretically take some hope in to the second leg at their own stadium.
At only 1-0 with a few minutes to go, it was possible to talk about a brave Hull performance. That was fair enough. They had tried for their new coach Marco Silva and, depleted as they are by injuries and African Nations’ Cup absentees, a single goal defeat would have been pretty much as good as they could ask for.
It would have disguised the issues, however. It would have hidden, at least in part, the embarrassing non-competitiveness of this game.
This was a semi-final masquerading as a reserve game and that does not reflect well on the owners who have allowed Hull City to fall in to a state of disrepair.
Why has Silva even been brought to Hull? As a coach or as a client of Jorge Mendes, a powerful agent who may be able to help sell the club to a wealthy buyer? The more cynical of us will place a tick by the side of the latter option.
Whatever the case, Silva was up against it here against a United coach who is determined to win the first trophy available to him as manager at Old Trafford. This is what Mourinho did at Chelsea all those years ago, of course, and he senses opportunity again.
Credit to Mourinho for that, too. He is a competitor and he likes to win. His team selection reflected that and in truth United should have been out of sight within half an hour.
Mata saw an early shot saved by Eldin Jakupovic while the otherwise impressive Henrikh Mkhitaryan was off target three times from decent positions.
Paul Pogba then worked Jakupovic from distance, Antonio Valencia fizzed a half volley in to the crowd while Rooney and Marcus Rashford fell over each other when chasing a Mkhitaryan through ball.
In the midst of all this, Hull could only run in hope. Silva’s players were not short on effort but they were not helped by an early injury to midfielder Markus Henriksen and at times it looked so straight forward for United that Mourinho felt obliged to ask his team’s supporters for a little more effort.
A 0-0 scoreline at half-time certainly felt strange. Theoretically at least, Hull were still in it and had they taken their opponents in to the final half an hour then who knows what miracle may have beckoned?
Rooney ran on to Pogba’s raking pass in the 51st minute and cushioned the ball beautifully to set himself up for a big moment at the Stretford End. He struck the ball with real power but his radar was slightly off. Still it was scoreless.
But if United were panicking they didn’t show it and when Mkhitaryan rose to head a Valencia cross back across goal, Mata moved in front of his man to volley the ball in to the net from four yards. Mata had been dangerous all night and deserved his goal, even if he may have been half a yard offside when the ball first touched Mkhitaryan’s forehead.
Soon after Pogba struck a post with a venomous free-kick and matters were settled late on when Matteo Darmian crossed for substitute Fellaini to head in the second.
The Belgian celebrated by hugging his manager with enthusiasm. Both knew that a place in the final was all but assured. This was no semi-final worthy of the term, though. We will not hold our breath in anticipation of the return. So the feel good factor continues for the reds..Its all set up for a cracking Sunday clash with Liverpool