Paul Pogba had said before Tuesday’s EFL Cup semi-final first leg clash against Hull City that Manchester United’s aim should be to put the tie to bed on the night. Their 2-0 win at Old Trafford might not be quite what he had in mind but it would take a turnaround of epic proportions on January 26 for United not to book a place at Wembley.
The difference between these two sides was laid out for all to see over the course of the evening. Hull may well have worked hard for their new boss Marco Silva, and created a few openings on the counter which had home supporters gasping in dread, but the glaring truth is that there is a monumental chasm between Jose Mourinho’s side and the Premier League’s basement dwellers.
Just as happened in the 1-0 win at the KCOM Stadium in August, United bossed the match for the entirety and should have had more than two goals to show for their superiority. With a bit of luck Hull could have got a share of the spoils out of the game, but more pertinent is the fact that they allowed United plenty of time and space to end with a much more comfortable margin heading to the east coast in a fortnight.
After a glut of misses from good opportunities, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata among those culpable of not making the best of decent positions, Mata eventually broke the deadlock when turning in Mkhitaryan’s header from close range just before the hour mark. It would have been a travesty of justice for United not to get at least one goal given their overwhelming dominance for much of the night.
They could easily have added one soon after, too, with Pogba himself striking the inside of the post from a free-kick, leaving Eldin Jakupovic motionless and thankful for the ball bouncing away to safety. Anthony Martial also went close after replacing the ineffective Wayne Rooney, and Rashford’s glorious burst of pace could so easily have seen Jesse Lingard slide home.
It was left to substitute Marouane Fellaini, so often the anti-hero for some, to wrap up the win and send the home crowd home singing his name ad nauseam. His back-post header had just enough on it to beat Jakupovic and escape Tom Huddlestone’s late attempt to clear.
If some United fans left Old Trafford frustrated at not making more of their chances, they should put themselves in Hull City’s shoes. Do the worst team in the Premier League really fancy their chances of coming from two goals behind, without an away goal to their favour, against a team which has pummelled them into submission twice already this season and currently boasts a nine-game winning run?
Make no mistake, Manchester United are going to Wembley. The margin of victory is all that will be decided in Hull.