Manchester United draw to within two points of leaders Chelsea in the Premier League title race following a hard fought victory over Hull City at the KC. Wayne Rooney had a hand in each of United’s three goals but not before the Scouser had gifted the home side an equaliser in another tough away fixture for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men this season.
In truth Ferguson leaves Hull with a sense of relief after the home side made a competitive match of the fixture despite gaining just two points in the club’s previous five outings. No longer is United sweeping the lesser lights of the Premier League away but with the return of a back four actually composed of defenders, Ferguson’s men were able to win without excelling.
Rio Ferdinand is missing for the foreseeable future but Sir Alex named Wes Brown, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael da Silva in the starting eleven for the match. It meant a return to the heart of United’s midfield for Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, whose absence has exposed the side’s soft underbelly in recent weeks.
Another restored to the side, Ryan Giggs, created United’s first chances by first firing just over the bar with a left-foot volley and then curling a free kick just wide in the opening minutes.
Rooney then stung Boaz Myhill’s gloves in the Hull goal with a fierce left-foot shot before intricate United football released Rafael through the middle only for the ‘keeper to block the Brazilian’s effort one-on-one.
While Giggs’ looked tired on his return to the United side – and Dimitar Berbatov had little impact until a late goal – at least Ferguson was able to count on Wayne Rooney to score the visitor’s opening goal. United’s leading marksman struck home Fletcher’s superb curling cross from the right for his 14th of the season, with Giggs providing little more than nuisance value at the near post.
United of old might have laid waste to Hull’s fragile defence but Phil Brown can take heart from a spirited comeback by the relegation-threatened home side. Alan Wiley, officiating in his first United match since Ferguson questioned the Staffordshire-born referee’s fitness to do the job in October, handed the Tigers an equaliser following Rooney’s error. The Scouser, fresh from giving United the lead, promptly lost company with the ball yards from his own goal. In the melee that followed Rafael barged over Jose Alitidore in the box, enabling Craig Fagan to score from the spot.
But United was always a major threat on the counter despite Hull’s best efforts to score a second. Ji-Sung Park, Giggs and then Rooney contributed to restoring United’s lead as the visitors’ lightening-quick break resulted in Andy Dawson turning the Scouser’s cross into his own net.
Moments later and Rooney threaded a final pass through Anthony Gardner’s legs to tee up his Bulgarian strike-partner for a simple tap in. Berbatov acknowledged Rooney’s brilliance in turning around not only his side’s fortunes but a potential ‘hairdryer’ moment in the dressing room had United not pulled off the victory.
“It’s a relief,” Rooney told Sky Sports.
“When they got their equaliser it was a mistake by myself. It’s the first time that’s ever happened to me and it’s not a nice feeling. I didn’t want to let down the lads though I was more worried about what the manager might say. But thankfully we got the win, which I’m pleased about because the manager would not have been too pleased.”
The victory moves United to within a win of Chelsea in a season where none of the leading sides have found any consistency. United’s five defeats in the Premier League before Christmas is the club’s worst run of losses in nearly a decade but Ferguson’s side could conceivably top the table by New Year’s Day.
With the club’s injury list finally easing now is the time for the Scot’s side to mount a series of victories if a fourth Premier League title in a row is to head Old Trafford’s way.
Rooney is central to that ambition.
“He (Rooney) was a threat all game; his penetration behind their back line was very good,” the United manager said.
“Yes, he made a mistake with a wayward ball for their goal but that was his one bad moment and otherwise I thought he was exceptional. He’s a natural winner and he’s always got that determination to do well. He would have been sicker than anyone that he made a mistake but he rectified it in a nice way.
“It’s looking more and more like it’s going to be a really tight league.
“It’s certainly different because we are seeing some unusual results. Experience will come into it. The team that steers clear of injuries will also have an advantage. Other than that, if you make mistakes in this league you are going to get punished. If we can eradicate mistakes we have a great chance.”