A fifth win in a row – their best sequence so far under David Moyes – maintained the possibility that relinquishing the Premier League title might not necessarily be the consequence of transition for Manchester United. Yet it was a performance yesterday that reinforced doubts as much as encouraged optimism.
Two goals down in 13 minutes after a calamitous beginning, United roused themselves so effectively it took them only 13 more minutes to be back on level terms but it took an own goal to give them all the points and Hull had a right to consider themselves unlucky.
Moments before James Chester headed into his own net to put United in front, Hull would have regained their lead had Alex Bruce’s header not come back off a post with David de Gea beaten.
Moreover, in a frantic finale in which United’s Antonio Valencia was sent off after picking up a second yellow card, Hull had three chances to equalise, all of which slipped agonisingly away from them.
Moyes, who lost right-back Rafael da Silva to a groin injury after Phil Jones had been ruled out late by a knee problem, conceded that United’s defending at the start had been less than exemplary, but he saw more positives than negatives. He was also able to reintroduce Darren Fletcher in midfield, where the Scotland international played for an hour after making his first start in more than a year, and gave Michael Carrick his first minutes on the field since an Achilles injury sidelined him in early November.
“I think we were still on the Humber Bridge for the first 10 minutes,” Moyes remarked, in reference to a traffic hold-up that delayed United’s arrival at the KC Stadium until just over an hour before the 12.45pm kick-off.
“But we got back in it, deservedly so. I don’t think many people would have thought it was over after we went 2-0 down – most would have been rubbing their hands and thinking, ‘We’re in for some game here.’
“That tells you what Manchester United have got and, hopefully, tells you about David Moyes as well, that my teams will always be committed to trying to win games.
“We got a bit of luck at different times but overall I think we warranted the win because of the way we went about it and coming back from 2-0 down.”
Even so, on a ground where Hull had previously let in only three goals all season, to concede twice was to risk going the way of Liverpool, whose defeat on Humberside at the beginning of the month illustrated Hull’s capabilities.
United’s lack of decisiveness in their own penalty area first allowed right-back Chester – a former Old Trafford trainee –to sweep home his first Premier League goal on what would be an eventful afternoon and then gave David Meyler an unexpected shooting chance that went in off the heel of Jonny Evans.
It was testament, as Moyes had stressed, to United’s spirit and belief that it should take them so little time to level things up, with Wayne Rooney playing the key role.
It was his free-kick that Chris Smalling headed powerfully and cleanly home for his first Premier League goal in more than two years and, when his attempted pass to Danny Welbeck was blocked, his quick thinking that turned the rebound into a chance, to which he reacted with a superbly executed volley, up and over the Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor and into the net. The goal was Rooney’s 150th in the Premier League for United, which makes him, after Thierry Henry, only the second player to score that many for the same club.
What’s more, it was Rooney applying the pressure when Chester headed Ashley Young’s cross into his own net after a mistake by Maynor Figueroa.
The goal came moments after Bruce’s near miss and was followed by opportunities for David Graham and the best of the match for Chester, who could come up with only a defender’s finish when George Boyd’s pass sent him clear.
Yet, despite losing keeper McGregor at half-time to an injury suffered early in the first half, Hull’s manager, Steve Bruce, was inclined less to bemoan his luck than to regret mistakes as his 19th attempt to secure a win over his former club ended in a 19th failure.
“We got off to a great start but too many mistakes – individual errors – at the wrong times have cost us,” he said.