‘CITY of Culture – we know what we are,’ read the 30ft high banner, complete with Hull City badge, which floated above the KCOM Stadium pitch ahead of kick-off.
Predictably, the message about next year’s celebration of all that is good about the Yorkshire city’s arts scene drew scorn from the 2,319 travelling fans.
By full-time, however, what those Manchester United supporters – and the millions watching on television both at home and around the globe – surely did accept is that Hull is a city of guts, desire and resolve.
Despite having endured comfortably the worst preparations for a Premier League season in history and having a squad so depleted that the bench bears the look of a sixth-form common room, the Tigers boast six points from the opening three games and occupy a place in the upper echelons of the fledgling table.
It could so easily have been seven, too. Only Marcus Rashford’s goal two minutes into stoppage time denied Hull a point against Manchester United that their incredible defensive resolve, if not ratio of chances created, had probably deserved.
Afterwards, United manager Jose Mourinho paid tribute to Hull’s “amazing spirit” and how “everyone was fighting for every ball”. The Portuguese also made clear his admiration for the Tigers when embracing Mike Phelan at the final whistle.
“Jose was pretty complimentary at the end about a group of players who put in a real shift,” revealed Phelan, the club’s caretaker manager. “He understands the game more than most and knows how difficult it is when you have a limited number of resources at your disposal.
“It was just frustrating and disappointing for this group of lads that they lost it in the final minute.”
That Phelan’s first meeting as a manager with a club he served as player and assistant manager should end with defeat being confirmed in what has become known in football circles as ‘Fergie time’, as a nod to his old boss, was rich in irony.
Certainly, there was a hint of the old swagger that characterised Sir Alex Ferguson’s days in the closing stages of a contest that, by then, had become a game of attack against defence.
The pressure a tiring Hull side came under during that final quarter was as incessant as the rain that fell on the East Riding for much of Saturday evening.
With Paul Pogba, a big disappointment until that late onslaught, pushed further up the field and substitute Henrik Mkhitaryan bringing an added urgency to the visitors, Hull faced wave upon wave of attack.
That they held out until the ‘92nd’ minute said everything about the togetherness and resolve that Phelan has instilled in a squad that should finally receive much-needed reinforcements this week, Cardiff City goalkeeper David Marshall expected to be the first new arrival of the summer in a £5m deal.
No one personified this never-say-die spirit more than Curtis Davies. He was simply outstanding against an attack led by one of world football’s great strikers, Zlatan Ibrahomivic.
Davies had, in fact, faced the Swede before in a pre-season friendly against Ajax at Kenilworth Road when starting out at Luton Town.
Ibrahimovic is unlikely to recall that low-key encounter of a dozen years ago, but he will surely not forget in a hurry the warrior-like performance that Davies put in on their second meeting.
After blocking Wayne Rooney’s effort on the line in the first half, the 31-year-old, captain in the absence of Michael Dawson, followed that by fearlessly throwing himself at a late shot from Mkhitaryan.
Davies also pulled off three other vital blocks deep in Hull territory, but he was not the only hero with Jake Livermore, again playing out of position, another defensive rock along with Eldin Jakupovic.
The Tigers goalkeeper brilliantly turned Rashford’s low shot behind 11 minutes from time and then displayed remarkable reflexes to keep out a wicked deflection off David Meyler that seemed destined for the net.
Jakupovic, however, could do nothing about the winner. Rooney created the opening by exploiting a rare slip by Ahmed Elmohamady on Hull’s right flank before drilling a cross that Rashford gleefully tapped in from a yard out.
As the travelling fans celebrated so wildly that one of the advertising hoardings was knocked over, and Mourinho rushed to make a ‘protect what we have’ substitution that would see defender Chris Smalling replace Rooney, Hull’s players sank to the sodden turf.
A day that had begun with vice- chairman Ehab Allam revealing in the match-day programme that the visit of the Red Devils was likely to be his family’s “last game as owners of this football club” had ended in the cruellest of defeats.
But, with the Chinese consortium bidding to buy the Tigers believed to be waiting for Premier League approval for their takeover, Hull enter the international break in rude health with only one team in Premier League history having been relegated after winning their first two games of a season.
Of course, if Hull are not to match Wolves’ class of 2011-12 in wasting such a bright start then the next two days are pivotal. “We have been desperate since pre-season (for signings) but it hasn’t happened,” said Davies. “I want to enjoy deadline day with a smile on my face knowing we have done business, rather than panicking.”