Manchester United booked their place in the EFL Cup final on Thursday, winning 3-2 on aggregate despite a 2-1 defeat on the night. It certainly wasn’t a vintage performance from José Mourinho’s men, who succumbed to their first loss since October courtesy of goals from Tom Huddlestone and Oumar Niasse either side of a Paul Pogba equaliser.
United underwhelmed from the first whistle, and Hull were soon able to gain a stranglehold on the game. It took them until just short of the half-hour mark to create the first clear-cut chance, though Chris Smalling’s last-gasp intervention on Michael Dawson came after a sustained spell of Tigers control.
Things soon went from bad to worse for United, with Marcos Rojo bundling defender Harry Maguire to the ground in the box. Referee Jon Moss didn’t hesitate to point to the spot, and Huddlestone promptly stepped up to convert an inch-perfect penalty. David de Gea dived the right way, but stood no chance.
Only after going behind did United wake up; three minutes later Zlatan Ibrahimović drew a first save from David Marshall. The Swedish striker curled a powerful shot towards the bottom corner, though the Tigers’ keeper sprung to his left to push the ball to safety.
Hull held their lead to the interval, and deservedly so: United led on aggregate, but weren’t at the races.
A succession of United corners early in the second half offered hope that Mourinho’s hairdryer had paid dividends, though it appeared Hull had just about managed to weather the early storm when Pogba restored parity soon past the hour. It was a goal almost from nothing, with the Frenchman prodding a loose ball inside Marshall’s far post after Huddlestone had dispossessed Rashford in the box.
It was harsh on the hosts, though they’d failed to test David de Gea after the break. United almost compounded Hull’s misery inside the final 20 minutes, though a Rojo header cracked against the crossbar.
However, Hull were down but still not out, and soon responded in kind: Niasse stooped to head a cross off the woodwork. The Senegalese international was presented with another great chance moments later, and this time he made no mistake. A glorious Huddlestone pass was followed up by a fine first-time David Meyler cross, leaving Niasse with a tap-in at the far-post. United were behind again.
Fortunately, it proved the last real chance of the match, with United now set to meet Southampton in the final at Wembley in exactly a month’s time. Let’s hope we turn in a better performance than we did here.