Big-match verdict: Marouane Fellaini’s late header leaves Hull City with huge task on hands at home

Marouane Fellaini steers a header over Hull Citys goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic to secure a two-goal advantage for Manchester United from the first leg of the League Cup semi-final (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).
Marouane Fellaini steers a header over Hull Citys goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic to secure a two-goal advantage for Manchester United from the first leg of the League Cup semi-final (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).
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HULL CITY have not got the better of Manchester United since the days when Tommy Docherty’s Red Army were terrorising the towns and cities of the old Second Division.

The Tigers’ record in the cups is not much better, even the day George Best, Denis Law et al were held to a 1-1 draw at Boothferry Park in the short-lived Watney Cup being let down by the Red Devils subsequently triumphing on penalties in English football’s first shoot-out.

Marouane Fellaini’s late looping header means that sorry run against one of the game’s giants is unlikely to be ending in fairytale fashion later this month by the booking of a trip to Wembley.

The Belgian’s 86th-minute goal, following on from Juan Mata’s opener means Jose Mourinho’s United are firmly in control at ‘half-time’ in this League Cup semi-final tie.

A two-goal deficit is not insurmountable. But nor, with the Red Devils having finally hit their stride under the Portuguese over the past month, is it one that is likely to leave Mourinho and his players feeling anything but confident of progressing.

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The bookmakers priced an away win at 20-1 before last night’s first leg and it would be a major surprise if Hull’s odds at reaching Wembley are not even longer going into the January 26 return.

That Marco Silva joined a succession of Hull managers in being beaten by Manchester United, who have now won 12 of those last 13 meetings in a run stretching back to 1975, was not a surprise.

Mourinho was able to welcome back to his starting XI the world’s most expensive footballer in £89m summer arrival Paul Pogba along with David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. His fellow countryman Silva, in contrast, had just one fit centre-half and a squad so decimated by injury that Hull were unable to name the requisite seven substitutes.

By full-time, those resources had been stretched further by injuries to Josh Tymon and Markus Henriksen to pile additional misery on the East Riding club.

With Adama Diomande ploughing a lone furrow up front for Hull and the game kicking off with the Old Trafford electronic advertising boards proclaiming the wares of a firm behind the ‘Official tractor of Manchester United..’, perhaps it was inevitable that much of the night involved a slow procession towards the Hull goal.

Initially, this led to chance after chance for the hosts that failed to bring a harvest although Eldin Jakupovic had to be alert to keep the first of these out inside 100 seconds.

Mata was the unfortunate Red Devil to see his searing drive brilliantly turned away by the Hull goalkeeper.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan then twice went close before a venomous shot from Pogba gave Jakupovic a fright, the ball looping off his arm and over the crossbar.

After that initial flurry, however, Hull settled and started to ask some searching questions of their own.

Abel Hernandez drilled a low shot that de Gea held low to his left, moments after Diomande had headed against a post.

A linesman’s flag, wrongly raised due not only to the Norwegian being level with the last defender but the ball coming to him via Chris Smalling’s head, meant the effort would not have counted, but it was a sign that the Tigers had grown into the tie after that difficult start.

After the break, though, Mourinho’s side re-established their dominance and Wayne Rooney went within a whisker of breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for the Red Devils.

A delightful floated pass from Pogba released the England captain, who drilled a low shot that flashed an inch or so wide of Jakupovic’s right-hand post.

It was a big let-off for the Tigers, but one that did not last long with Mourinho’s side going ahead just before the hour.

Antonio Valencia was afforded far too much space on Hull’s flank and his cross was headed back across goal by Mkhitaryan for Mata to touch in from a yard out.

Pogba went agonisingly close to doubling that advantage with a curling free-kick that struck the inside of Jakupovic’s right-hand post.

Diomande did have an acrobatic attempt for Hull from a David Meyler cross, but the potentially fatal blow to Hull’s hopes of reaching Wembley was delivered four minutes from time.

A floated cross by Matteo Darmain found substitute Fellaini and his looping header found the net despite the best efforts of Tom Huddlestone on the line.

It meant a familiar feeling of defeat as their wretched run against the Red Devils continued. Hull will get two opportunities inside seven days to halt that dominance, but it is hard to see anything but Mourinho being the Portuguese walking out ahead of his team at Wembley next month.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Darmian; Herrera, Pogba; Mata (Fellaini 79), Rooney (Martial 59), Mkhitaryan (Lingard 71); Rashford. Unused substitutes: Romero, Blind, Fosu-Mensah, Carrick.

Hull City: Jakupovic; Meyler, Maguire, Huddlestone, Robertson; Henriksen (Hernandez 16), Mason, Clucas, Tymon (Weir 90); Snodgrass, Diomande (Maloney 74). Unused substitutes: Marshall, Bowen, Clackstone.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

Hull players battle to be heroes: Page 22.

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