So, this Marco Silva fella. I was starting to warm to him. I’ve seen enough from the changes he’s made to the way we play and the signings he’s made in the face of the club imploding (further) in the last fortnight to think we might just have someone who can work that miracle he spoke of. And then he goes and names a near-second string side for a cup semi-final. The joker.
We lost the first leg 2-0 at Old Trafford and our hopes of a historic first ever League Cup final were in tatters but the team selection said the manager didn’t think we could do it and had no interest in burning out his precious resources to even try.
Meyler – Dawson – Maguire – Tymon
Huddlestone – Clucas
Bowen – Maloney – Diomande
The team selection said nothing. If you pre-judged it, like I did, then Silva made a mug out of you. There was nothing between the sides early on and as the half went on, City dominated the ball more and more and carved out the better chances. Even with all the changes we’d made and two rookies in, Silva’s influence was obvious. I’ve never seen a Hull City team play anyone with our centre defenders in the opposition’s half, let alone Manchester United. Tom Huddlestone and Sam Clucas as the base of the midfield are always available for a pass and sweep up nicely in front of the back four. The movement from Jarrod Bowen from the wide areas looking for the ball in behind was outstanding and Shaun Maloney worked between their defence and midfield nicely.
Clucas forced the first save of the game, firing a free kick straight at De Gea (who punched it away in stereotypical foreign keeper fashion) after Oumar Niasse had stumbled his way past several United defenders before being fouled by Phil Jones. During the warm applause to show solidarity with Ryan Mason on 25, the ball was looped back into the box from a cleared corner. Michael Dawson controlled the ball, dropping over his left shoulder, brilliantly but was slow to shoot and Smalling recovered. Niasse fired the rebound into those foreign keeper’s fists. Niasse won another free kick around the box and Maloney curled it over.
They’d done nothing of note. Huddlestone was dominating the ball in midfield with Paul Pogba buzzing around him like a fan who’d won a game in a charity auction. Rashford had the beating of David Meyler for pace on their left but Meyler was dogged and tuck with him. Adama Diomande did the dirty work, as he generally does, and was underneath the crossbar to boot an Ibrahimovic cross clear from their best attack. With 5 minutes left in the half, we got fed up of toying with them and scored. Harry Maguire was trying to meet Maloney’s left wing corner when Rojo sent him flying. I was in a terrible position to see but TV replays showed clear shirt pulling. The ref pointed to the spot and Huddlestone buried the penalty in the bottom right hand corner.
We gifted the ball to Ibrahimovic soon after and the defenders backed off and backed off as he strolled into the box but Marshall got down to his left to save brilliantly as the whole ground awaited the inevitable net ripple. It was freezing, our most dangerous players were on the bench or off negotiating with West Ham but we were leading one of the most expensively assembled teams in football history.
The visitors started the second half strongly and forced four corners in quick succession. They were desperate to get back into game and it showed as Pogba threw himself down in the penalty area with Huddlestone not even close to touching him. Jon Moss rightly told him to get on with it but didn’t produce the deserved yellow card. From one of the many corners, the ball is played back in and Smalling finds himself with a sight of goal but Huddlestone recovers. Smalling is livid and wants a penalty. Huddlestone tells him he’s a cheat. Incessant whiner Herrera hounds the ref. Nothing is given and rightly so. There was hardly any contact. I’d like to think Pogba’s blatant cheating added doubt to the ref’s mind too. Karma’s a bugger.
City start to regain their composure but only after Bowen caps a fine evening’s work, on and off the ball, by refusing to back down when Rashford gave him some stick and the two went chest to chest. Meyler and sub Rooney stepped in to make sure the feisty youngsters didn’t do anything silly. There followed a period of City possession with the ball being worked in to midfield and back before springing an attack on the right that most have seen 30 consecutive City passes.
Serb Lazar Markovic, on loan from Liverpool, came on for Bowen for his debut and Evandro replaced Maloney. The advantage of fielding a weakened side meant there were plenty of options from the bench. Neither Bowen nor Maloney did their prospects any harm having had fine games. While City were getting used to the adjustments, United killed the tie with a soft equaliser. An innocuous move down our right saw the ball fed into the box. Huddlestone fended off Rashford but looked off balance and could only prod the ball to Pogba who stuck it under Marshall.
Despite being a historic occasion, it was obvious the attendance was going to be well down. United had most of the North Stand and the West Upper wasn’t open at all. When it was announced (not in the stadium), there were 13,088 City fans in a crowd of 16,831 – and that doesn’t include away fans in the home end. Are the Allams embarrassed by this? I’d love to think so but that disgusting pair seem utterly shameless. I’m embarrassed by it and it’s not my fault.
Abel Hernández is chucked on as City go in search of a winner. Two goals in the last 20 minutes was probably too much to ask though. Both teams hit the bar with good headers. Rojo nods Lingard’s corner onto the woodwork in front of those United fans in North and then Niasse meets a cross from the right and is equally unlucky. Hernández puts the rebound wide. With time running down, City press them again. Our centre halves are regularly in their half. There are a lot of forward passes and great movement from the lively subs. We’d run out of time to win the tie but we did win the game and it was sealed by a truly beautiful goal.
First Maguire, who continues to carry the ball out from the back superbly and who’s defending, particularly one on one, and composure are going to see him capped by England, and then Dawson stepped into their half with the ball, bouncing it off Huddlestone and looking for the forward pass. It comes to Josh Tymon on the left, is worked into the middle where Markovic floats it wide to the right, Meyler volleys it calmly across goal and Niasse sticks it in at the far post. We continued to have a go in the remaining minutes but couldn’t create the last opportunity.
City deserved the win. They were outstanding. Even with a second choice look to the side. There’ll be no trip to Wembley and no silverware (not that we care!) but there was a whole lot of pride in the manager and the players.
I don’t want to get carried away by Silva, especially when he’s about to lose his most effective attacking player, but it’s hard not to be seriously impressed by what we’ve seen so far and to wonder what he can do with a bit of backing in the transfer market with the £20m the club have just about raised selling Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass. If he can get this team playing like they did in this semi in tense home games against the likes of Burnley, Boro, Sunderland and Swansea then Marco’s Miracle is on.
Rick Skelton (report first appeared on Tiger Chat)