JOSE MOURINHO’S 54th birthday was not without its interruptions.
Ultimately, the Manchester United manager’s night was not spoiled. But the party was not in full swing either on an evening when the Wembley invitations had been metaphorically written by most shrewd observers before the kick-off.
It was no serene night by the Humber, certainly not for 66 minutes. Mourinho spoke about his fellow Portuguese in Marco Silva being “clever” in mind and deed and having something about him and his words proved prophetic on the night.
Before the game, Silva spoke of “fighting for the dream” of reaching a Wembley final. All very well meaning, but a little trite, many would have ventured.
But in this case, the words were not hollow. The beef was provided by a tenacious Hull side who again displayed their capacity to surprise and at times made for an overly uncomfortable night for United.
Mourinho’s own refrain of “We have work to do” may have seemed hackneyed ahead of kick-off, but he was clearly onto something.
The sight of messrs Ibrahimovic, Pogba, de Gea and Rashford lining up from the off underlined his intent and seriousness too. He must know Silva well.
Silva’s line-up, by contrast, was pragmatic. Given the first-leg scoreline, anemic squad options at his disposal, and an unforgiving, some would say cruel, fixture schedule, most would have displayed similar realism.
It was not quite mission impossible for Hull, but mission very unlikely, with inspection of the teamsheet handed in by Silva’s compatriot Mourinho underlining that fact with indelible red ink.
The previous second leg of a two-legged tie at the KCOM Stadium may have seen a side rally in intoxicating fashion from a daunting first-leg deficit to make for a pulsating if nerve-shredding night out east.
That team was Derby County, who almost ripped up Hull’s play-off final ticket back in May.
Hull may have lacked the free-flowing swagger of Derby on that climatic May evening in an eventful play-off semi-final second leg. But few could accuse them of not having a go or having their moments.
The sight of the top tier of the West Stand closed may have highlighted a sense of indifference from sections of the home support, whose axe to grind with the club’s owners is clear.
The sparse attendance of under 17,000 was hardly the stuff you usually associate with semi-finals. But Hull’s players turned it into an occasion.
On the pitch, the Tigers have not lacked for spirit this season and they showed a boxer’s heart in the absence of their main creative force by a country mile in Robert Snodgrass.
A bullocking early run from Oumar Niasse hinted at the things to come. Then there was the coltishness of teenager Jarrod Bowen, who buzzed around with intent on a big night for him and refused to be cowed.
Others refused to lie down at facing such exalted opposition, with home fans warming to their efforts on a bitterly cold night.
The bravado of the Manchester contingent, who belted out a long chorus of Herman’s Hermits I’m Into Something Good along with a fair few Wembley songs amid a euphoric first-half atmosphere in the main, was dimmed when Tom Huddlestone powered in a 36th-minute penalty.
They soon regained their voices, but were mindful of the scoreline too.
Genuine agitation arrived in the second half when appeals for a penalty were rebuffed when Chris Smalling went down under pressure from Huddlestone.
It was not a stroll after all, with Pogba’s leveller applying a spot of relief, although Niasse provided further discomfort towards the end.
Yorkshire Post - Football
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