MANCHESTER UNITED fans sing their adoration of Eric Cantona every festive season with an adapted version of Twelve Days of Christmas.
It is, however, Wayne Rooney who surely deserves the adulation – and grateful thanks – of the Premier League champions’ supporters everywhere this year after once again displaying his liking for Hull City.
Two goals down inside 13 minutes at a bouncing KC Stadium courtesy of strikes from James Chester and David Meyler, the reigning champions were facing a miserable Christmas before Rooney rode to the rescue.
First, he created the visitors’ opening goal for Chris Smalling with a sublime free-kick.
That was then followed with a stunning 25-yard effort to drag United level before Rooney rounded off his afternoon by applying sufficient pressure to the unfortunate Chester as the one-time Old Trafford trainee headed what turned out to be the decisive goal into his own net.
For Hull, the tale was a wearily familiar one as Rooney, in inspiring such a stirring fightback by David Moyes’s men, took his goal tally against the East Yorkshire club to six in the last three meetings between the two clubs.
It meant more disappointment for Hull manager Steve Bruce, whose winless run of games in management against the club he captained to the Premier League title now stands at 19.
He said: “We are disappointed because of the way we have played in the game.
“We got off to a wonderful start but unfortunately for us – and I have not said this many times – we have made too many mistakes at crucial times.
“Individual errors, rather than the team performance, cost us. We gave a bad free-kick away just when we needed to keep the ball (for Smalling’s goal).
“Overall the better chances were ours in the second half, but then we’ve made another mistake with Maynor (Figueroa) diving in and Chester unfortunately heading it the wrong way.
“That sometimes happens, but to beat the big teams you have got to be faultless. Unfortunately we have been beaten because we made too many mistakes.”
Hull had enjoyed a dream start, the early strikes by Chester and Meyler leaving the KC faithful in a ‘pinch me, I’m dreaming’ mood.
The opener came inside four minutes courtesy of Chester, the Tigers defender gleefully firing into the roof of the net from close range after Alex Bruce had headed Tom Huddlestone’s corner into his path.
Nine minutes later, Hull’s afternoon got even better as Jonny Evans, in trying to block a scuffed shot from Meyler, could only divert the ball past the helpless David De Gea.
At this stage, the crowing home fans were taunting the United hordes with the chant of ‘You’re not very good.’
Just what odds anyone could have got on English football’s most successful club being goaded in such a manner when the KC Stadium had hosted its first League game exactly 11 years to the day against Hartlepool United in the Fourth Division is hard to quantify.
But, as perhaps should be expected of a club with a record 20 League titles to their name, United’s response was impressively swift with Smalling heading Rooney’s inch-perfect free-kick past Allan McGregor.
That came in the 19th minute and it was not too long before the Red Devils had drawn level.
Rooney was again a pivotal figure, the England striker this time thundering an unstoppable shot beyond the Hull goalkeeper after latching on to an attempted clearance by Curtis Davies.
It was trademark Rooney and underlined why United should accede to their talisman’s contract demands, as without him Moyes’s task of stamping his own mark on the club post-Ferguson is going to be even harder.
That said, there is still plenty of other talent in the United squad. Adnan Januzaj, brought on with Hull 2-0 ahead to play an instrumental role in the first goal by winning the free-kick that Rooney so wonderfully placed onto Smalling’s head, again displayed his potential, while both Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young asked serious questions of the home defence during a hugely entertaining contest.
It was an enticing cross by Young that led to the visitors taking the lead midway through the second half. Rooney was the intended target but, instead, the unfortunate Chester, with the England man breathing down his neck, got to the ball first and could only divert it past substuitute goalkeeper Steve Harper and into his own net.
Considering Hull had just moments earlier struck the post at the other end through Bruce’s looping header, falling behind was very harsh on the hosts.
Try as they did, however, there was to be no way back with Danny Graham only able to head straight at De Gea after being picked out by Sagbo with six minutes remaining.
Hull – after being given a lift by Antonio Valencia’s dismissal for kicking the ball away for his second booking – had an even better chance in stoppage time when George Boyd picked out the unmarked Chester.
His poor first touch, though, allowed De Gea to race from his line and block. Bruce then shot wide right at the finish as the equaliser Hull’s play had merited refused to materialise.
Hull City: McGregor (Harper 46); Chester, Davies, Bruce; Elmohamady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler (Koren 46), Figueroa (Boyd 73); Graham, Sagbo. Unused substitutes: Harper, Rosenior, Koren, Fryatt, McShane Faye.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael (Januzaj 18), Smalling, Evans, Evra; Cleverley, Fletcher (Hernandez 62); Valencia, Rooney, Young (Carrick 78); Welbeck. Unused substitutes: Lindegaard, Vidic, Fabio, Kagawa.
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).