Wednesday 13 December 2017

Pogba drags off-colour United back to Wembley

Hull City 2 Manchester United 1 (United win 3-2 on aggregate)

David Meyler attempts to block the path of Wayne Rooney during Hull’s victory last night Picture: PA
David Meyler attempts to block the path of Wayne Rooney during Hull’s victory last night Picture: PA

Sam Wallace

The 12th Cup final of Jose Mourinho's career awaits at Wembley on February 26, and as with most of these occasions in his glittering career he will be expected to win it, although his Manchester United team didn't sail through this semi-final as they might have anticipated.

The song the away support sung relentlessly on this cold Humberside night was their new composition to the tune of Herman's Hermits' I'm into Something Good, that declares boldly that "Jose's got United playing the way they should".

They won this League Cup semi-final tie on aggregate, and it was humble Hull City and their brave new manager Marco Silva who brought to an end United's 17-game unbeaten run that stretches back to the start of November.

Mourinho will no doubt invite us to look at the bigger picture. A vulnerable, disjointed squad inherited from Louis Van Gaal, who had nonetheless been FA Cup winners, now looks that bit more robust, but there are concerns at how some of the big guns performed.

On the night they agreed to sell their best player, Robert Snodgrass, to West Ham, the terminally dysfunctional Hull were superb, especially Tom Huddlestone, who scored a first half penalty, and then Oumar Niasse, who got the winner late on.

They took the game to United with their limited resources and Mourinho's team were fortunate that Paul Pogba's goal was enough to see them through to that final against Southampton.

Hull City's Oumar Niasse in action with Manchester United's Marcos Rojo Picture: Reuters
Hull City's Oumar Niasse in action with Manchester United's Marcos Rojo Picture: Reuters

There was something about the pre-match mood suggesting that this second leg would be nothing more than a formality at the start of the night, with the home stands only partially filled and Mourinho having unleashed the big guns on Hull once again.

Michael Carrick and Marcus Rashford came back into the team alongside the other regulars of the new Mourinho era.

Fluent

They never really looked fluent in the first half, however, and Silva was brave enough to pick an attacking formation that asked a few questions of their visitors.

It helped Hull that United were extremely flat before the break, and unable to bring either Rashford or Jesse Lingard on the opposite side into the game. Playing in the No 10 role, Pogba looked lost in the first half and Ibrahimovic was afforded just one chance when he had Michael Dawson retreating and forced a good save from David Marshall, back in goal for Hull.

Otherwise, there was very little pressure on Hull's playmaker, Huddlestone, who was permitted to dictate the tempo of the game.

Hull also had the good fortune that referee Jon Moss spotted Marcos Rojo's shirt pull on Harry Maguire as the Hull centre-half moved through the box at a corner on 34 minutes. There were the predictable displays of disbelief from the United players but no question that Rojo had hold of his opponent.

To beat David De Gea from the spot, Hull had Huddlestone, a cultured footballer who has never quite had the career his talents might have earned him in another era more distant from the modern-day preference for hard runners in midfield. He fired the ball low into the corner.

United had been given due warning earlier when Huddlestone had lobbed the ball back into the area and Dawson had killed it beautifully only for Rojo to sweep in and make a good challenge.

There was a need for an urgent change of attitude among United's midfield, although it took a long time to come, and in the meantime Huddlestone did what he does so well when give the time. He passed the ball and he got it back and he passed it again while Pogba looked on from the margins with only a passing interest.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in action with Hull City's Josh Tymon Picture: Reuters
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in action with Hull City's Josh Tymon Picture: Reuters

Mourinho was raging seven minutes into the second half when his team had a reasonable appeal for a penalty turned down. Huddlestone leant into Smalling in the area and knocked him over; United certainly had a case.

In the meantime, Silva had gambled again, bringing on the new Brazilian signing Evandro and Lazar Markovic, newly loaned from Liverpool.

It was notable that for so much of the game, Huddlestone, that man out so often out of his time, was running the show in the presence of Pogba, that modern midfield archetype. Yet their paths crossed just after the hour when Huddlestone managed to get a foot to the ball when Rashford ran into the box but could not hook it out of the area.

Running onto the ball, and making easily his most significant contribution of the evening was Pogba who, it should be said, finished neatly by stroking the ball past Marshall into the far corner.

It left Hull requiring two goals to take the game into extra-time and while they never gave up the ghost that became a tall order indeed.

Niasse clattered a header against the bar with 12 minutes left and he scored the winner on the night with six minutes left.

That came from David Meyler's brilliant cross from the right which the Senegalese striker was in the right place to finish. He deserved it.

There was one late run from Harry Maguire but not the shot to match and United saw it out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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