Brown hits high note as Tigers claw clear

Hull 0 Manchester United 1

The portents of Manchester United's fringe men knocking a ball around east Yorkshire turf with considerably more ease than they probably do in most of their reserve games together – and winning – can wait for another day. Hull City have survived; those wonderful autumn days when they were unbeaten on Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal's soil proving their salvation in the final reckoning.

"I want to go home," crooned Phil Brown, grabbing the microphone and sashaying into the sunshine on the pitch for some karaoke as the celebrations started. "I've never done that before," he said later, reflecting on that act. "I've never conducted 25,00 people before. Well maybe in a church – and this is my church."

Brown didn't seem to have many believers on the field of play, though. Hull were poor again, shorn of the self-belief to counter-attack United's young players with any belief, even when their survival might have depended on it. But they won at St James' Park on 13 September, long before the rot set in, and they were not the poorest in the land on football's judgement day.

The messages being ferried to Brown by Jimmy Bullard and Ian Ashbee – sitting behind him and in constant telephone contact with Villa Park – would have created no cause for alarm. Neither did this seem to be an afternoon of tension for those who watched City's eighth defeat in 10 games with earplugs in.

Brown's side were back in the relegation zone for precisely 13 minutes – the passage of time between Darren Gibson's fine winning goal for United and Damien Duff's life-affecting own goal, 140 miles away at Villa Park.

When the final whistle went there was mild applause and then, 30 seconds later when the Villa Park outcome was confirmed, unbridled joy for a set of fans who, despite two wins in six months and nine points from a possible 66, remain undoubtedly the sunniest in the top flight. United's fans were pretty ecstatic too, their tally of 90 points supplemented with events elsewhere which prompted ironic shouts of "Shearer for England". The Newcastle manager once fatefully signed for Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn Rovers ahead of Alex Ferguson's United.

From that half-time team talk on the pitch, on the Boxing Day afternoon at Manchester City when Hull slipped from sixth place and began their inexorable slide, to the unexpected extra day off he gave his players last Thursday, Brown had tried every known strategy to recapture those magical early season qualities. But the gulf was painful yesterday. Ferguson reached so far into his reserves that his left back Ritchie de Laet, signed on a three-year loan from Stoke in January, was not even listed in the match programme and Federico Macheda, 17, and Danny Welbeck, 18, were the combined age of Nicky Barmby, the one shining light for Hull.

You know a United side is shorn of its creative talent when Nani is asked to be its prime playmaker but a fierce and rising 20-yard shot from left back Andy Dawson, which Tomasz Kuszczak palmed over, and a second-half header from Michael Turner, for which the goalkeeper stretched, was the closest the Tigers came.

Macheda and Welbeck were a well matched combination against Brown's defence and there had been some neat interchanged passes before Gibson picked up a short pass from Macheda and thumped a 20-yard shot past Boaz Myhill to send City back into the drop zone.

They had not experienced life there until the 9 May defeat at Stoke but the chance which 22-year-old Lee Martin placed at Macheda's feet, seconds after the goal, showed why the Tigers had won only once in 21 games. The Italian's startled response suggested it was the kind of gift he has not been afforded in United's reserves all season and his shot was tame, as was his next, after he had jinked easily around Michael Turner to make more shooting space.

Then Aston Villa scored and though United could have extended things in the second half – Macheda sliced wide a ball Gibson rolled into the area – it was a waiting game for Hull.

Brown, who has suggested he will now head to the south of France on his Harley Davidson, reflected last night on what was "the best day" of his career as a player, coach and manager.

"It was even greater than beating Bristol City, by a long way. We lost so it was mixed feelings. It was important to stay at this level get the finances in place and prevent having this kind of day again. I won't be away for long because I'm now in a race with 19 other clubs to improve." It is when he is back that the underlying gulf in class will return to mind. On the events of this calendar year, Hull have a mountain to climb if they are not to be relegated by next April.

Hull City (4-4-1-1) Myhill; Ricketts, Turner, Kilbane, Dawson; Garcia (Cousin, 81) Boateng, Marney, Geovanni (Folan, 54); Barmby (Mendy, 68); Fagan. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Duke (gk) Mendy, Halmosi, Zayette, Cousin

Manchester United (4-4-2) Kuszczak; Rafael (Eckersley, 60) Brown, Neville, De Laet (Possebon, 79); Nani, Fletcher, Gibson, Welbeck (Tosic, 88); Martin, Macheda. Substitutes not used: Tosic, Possebon, Amos (gk), Evans, Drinkwater, James.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked Hull City Barmby Manchester United Gibson.

Man of the match: Gibson.

Attendance: 24,945.