ANDY DAWSON handed Sir Alex Ferguson a belated Christmas present with a second half own goal at the KC Stadium to help gift Manchester United what could prove to be a crucial victory in the race for the Premier League title.
Until Dawson’s blunder in the 73rd minute this contest was very much in the balance. The inspirational Wayne Rooney had put United ahead with his 14th goal of the season, only for Hull City to equalise from the penalty spot 13 minutes after the interval through Craig Fagan.
Indeed, Hull were even sensing a famous victory until Ryan Giggs and Rooney broke down the right before the latter’s dangerous cross was turned into his own goal by the unfortunate Dawson. As Hull pushed forward in search of an equaliser they were hit on the break again by Rooney, whose sublime pass picked out the unmarked Dimitar Berbatov to make it 3-1 and end the contest.
Hull made three changes in the wake of last week’s defeat at Arsenal and it seemed to work. Manager Phil Brown dropped Paul McShane and recalled Bernard Mendy in his place. Brazilian playmaker Geovanni was also left out while Nick Barmby missed out due to a calf injury. In came Seyi Olofinjana for his aggressive qualities in midfield and Jozy Altidore was also recalled in attack.
Ferguson, meanwhile, was provided with a belated Christmas present as he welcomed back three defenders following injury in the shape of Wes Brown, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael Da Silva.
With leaders Chelsea dropping more points at Birmingham City on Saturday this was an ideal opportunity for United to close the gap on Carlo Ancelotti’s men, not least because Hull had not won in their last four outings prior to this encounter.
United almost made the perfect start inside the first six minutes when Antonio Valencia showed a clean pair of heels to Andy Dawson and crossed for the unmarked Ryan Giggs at the back post, but his spectacular volley whistled just over.
As expected Hull were finding it difficult to get out of their own half as United went in search of the early breakthrough, but some over-complicated play and intricate passing was leading to promising moves breaking down.
A more direct approach in the 16th minute looked to have found United the breakthrough when Kamil Zayatte bundled over Rooney on the edge of the penalty area but Giggs’ free kick was a whisker the wrong side of the upright and Hull continued to survive. No one personified Hull’s stubbornness more than Mendy, who flung himself at Rooney moments later to somehow block the England forward’s goalbound drive after Darren Fletcher’s initial drive had deflected kindly into his path.
The closest Hull came to troubling United was when Brown slid in on Richard Garcia but referee Alan Wiley was correct to wave away strong home appeals for a penalty after replays showed he had got the ball. Olofinjana then tried his luck from long range but his skidding drive was too close to Tomasz Kuszczak.
Rooney demanded a smart save from Myhill with a blistering volley destined for the top corner before Myhill almost turned villain when he spooned his clearing kick straight into the air and to Giggs, who in turn fed Rooney but once again Mendy snuffed out the danger.
When Hull did forage forward they looked dangerous, never more so than when Fagan found space on the right to cross for the rampaging Olofinjana but his instant volley was superbly saved by Kuszczak.
Chances continued to be wasted at either end. Olofinjana rampaged down the middle in the 38th minute and fed Stephen Hunt, but his diagonal strike went agonisingly wide of the far post before United responded in typical fashion, bursting upfield for Valencia to release Dimitar Berbatov but with just Myhill to beat he could only drill his shot into the side netting from a tightish angle.
Moments later Michael Carrick’s sublime pass sent Da Silva in behind a static Hull defence but once again Myhill was up to the challenge and denied the Brazilian with a superb one-handed save as United’s frustration began to increase.
But all this was forgotten on the cusp of half time when United finally broke Hull’s resistance. Fletcher’s cross was aimed at Giggs but when the veteran winger failed to connect the ball landed with Rooney and he was not about to squander his best chance of the game, clipping an accurate shot beyond Myhill to register his sixth goal in as many games.
Yet Hull refused to buckle and found a way back into the contest just before the hour mark courtesy of some woeful defending from United. Rooney gave the ball away to Craig Fagan, who rounded Kuszczak and crossed to the back post, where Altidore was felled from behind by Da Silva to concede a penalty. Fagan made no mistake to level the scores and Richard Garcia could have headed Hull in front on 66 minutes but the Australian’s header glanced just wide.
Moments later, United were ahead again when Dawson turned Rooney’s cross into his own net, and Berbatov put the result beyond doubt with a simple finish nine minutes from time following great vision from Rooney to pick him out at the far post.
MATCH RATING: *** In the end the result went as predicted but the Tigers produced a spirited performance which gave their Yorkshire supporters something to cheer. But in the end United had too much fluidity and speed.
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire) – This was his first game in charge of United since being accused of being unfit by Ferguson, but he looked in decent shape when keeping pace with a frantic encounter and managed to get the bigger decisions spot on, even if this infuriated home supporters.
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