Manchester United 3 Hull City 0: Timid and toothless Tigers in need of quick lift

MAYBE it was the banners that adorn the upper tier along three sides of Old Trafford.

Hull City manager Steve Bruce enjoys a joke with Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal before a match which would give the Tigers' boss nothing to smile about (Picture Martin Rickett/PA Wire).

‘European Capital of Trophies,’ reads one, while another depicts all 38 of the Cups and League 
titles won by Manchester United during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as manager.

Clearly, the intent is to leave the visitors in no doubt as to how illustrious the hosts’ recent history is. Judging by Hull City’s insipid and lifeless display on Saturday it worked a treat.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Timid and toothless, the 
Tigers could not have given off the impression of being intimidated more if they had barricaded the dressing room door at 2.55pm and sent out the kit man waving a white flag.

Hull were the very definition of a team that was beaten before a ball had been kicked as Louis van Gaal’s side were gifted a victory that really should have been more resounding than the eventual three-goal margin.

Hull had no belief, very little ambition and succumbed to defeat in such a sorry manner that if the alarm bells were not ringing around the KC Stadium before the trip across the Pennines then they very much were on the return trip home.

Of course, as manager Steve Bruce has stressed time and time again, defeat at Manchester United or any of the other Champions League hopefuls is unlikely to define the Tigers’ season.

But this surrender coming just three weeks after the no-show at Burnley on their previous away assignment suggests that confidence levels have hit rock bottom.

Bruce, whose 700th game in management turned into something of a damp squib at the home of his former club, knows his Hull players are badly in need of a lift right now.

“Confidence is always going to suffer when results don’t go your way,” said the Hull manager. “It is inevitable.

“You can’t bottle confidence. We all enjoy the Premier League when we are playing well, but the art of being a Premier League player is stopping making the elementary mistakes.

“Confidence is an easy word, but they have to roll their sleeves up and get stuck into it. You need to battle through it because that’s what Premier League players do.

“If every game had been 80 minutes this season, we would be up in fifth because of all the late goals we have conceded. That erodes a bit of confidence, when you play well and don’t get what you deserve.

“That said, we didn’t deserve anything against United. But, as I have said, coming to Old Trafford won’t define our season.”

The one saving grace of Hull’s 13th defeat in 15 visits to Manchester United is that results elsewhere kept Bruce’s men out of the relegation zone.

This apart, though, there were precious few crumbs of comfort for the 2,500 travelling fans who provided marvellous backing throughout a one-sided contest.

Those supporters deserved better from a squad that, by common consent, is the most talented in the club’s history.

What they got was another opening 45 minutes to forget. In terms of basic errors and poor decision making, it was on a par with this season’s trips to Aston Villa and Turf Moor.

The tone was set on 16 minutes when Hull made a hash of several opportunities to clear during the build-up to United’s opening goal.

First, Hull gave possession away cheaply down their right and that led to a corner being awarded that Wayne Rooney swung into the six-yard area.

Nikica Jelavic and Curtis Davies then got in each other’s way while trying to clear the danger, managing only to divert the ball towards the unmarked Chris Smalling, who instinctively headed goalwards.

Hull managed to block the effort but, again, the ball ran to Smalling and this time his shot was allowed to squirm across the line courtesy of some clumsy handling by Allan McGregor.

It was a poor goal to concede, but worse followed four minutes before the break when more slack play allowed the hosts to double their advantage.

A long ball forward to Ander Herrera found the midfielder standing slightly offside but, with the flag staying down, he headed the ball in the direction of two team-mates and Curtis Davies.

The Hull captain seemed to have the simple task of then clearing only to allow the ball to run across his body. That was all Robin van Persie needed, the Dutch striker quickly seizing possession and rolling a pass to Rooney.

He did the rest with a stunning finish to notch a seventh goal in five appearances against the Tigers.

If the contest had been marginally alive up to that point, it was over now and although Hull did improve after the break there was never any suggestion of a comeback.

Instead, United added a third on 66 minutes as a poor pass out of defence from Andrew Robertson found only Herrera. He slipped a pass to van Persie, who thundered an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net from 20 yards.

All the Tigers could hope for was some damage limitation and, at least, they did manage that with Stephen Quinn and Michael Dawson managing to deny Smalling and Radamel Falcao with goal-line clearances.

Bruce said: “When you come to a place like this you have to play at your best, but we were well short of being anywhere near that.

“We have to find a solution to it but your season is not going to be defined by games at Old Trafford. Away from home this season – especially at the Emirates and at Anfield – we have produced really good performances so we can do it.”