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Sports

Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini put Manchester United on top against Hull

theguardian.com

The advantage José Mourinho demanded from this first leg became far more comfortable when Marouane Fellaini doubled Manchester United’s margin of victory late on. As is the custom now the Portuguese’s side dominated their opponents and with the Belgian’s headed finish on 87 minutes now take a two-goal lead to the KCom Stadium for the EFL Cup semi-final second leg in a fortnight’s time.

Here was yet another win for a United side that are starting to purr on virtually every matchday. On this showing the club have every chance of reaching next month’s final and seeking a fifth triumph in the competition.

United went full tilt at Hull City instantly. Matteo Darmian raced along the left and pinged the ball into Juan Mata whose instant shot was saved well by Eldin Jakupovic to the goalkeeper’s right. This was indicative of the strut Mourinho has put into his side’s play. Each time they take the field now there is an expectancy they will emerge on top, the effect of a run that has now extended to nine consecutive victories and an unbeaten sequence of 15 games.

To underline that mood the home side came close to the opener just a few moments later. Marcus Rashford, who scored twice in Saturday’s 4-0 FA Cup win over Reading, scuffed an attempt and Wayne Rooney nearly connected for a record 250th United goal.

Mourinho had made seven changes from Saturday’s win over Reading with only Mata, Chris Smalling, Rashford and Rooney retained. For his second game as Hull’s manager, Marco Silva kept nine of his first XI that knocked Swansea City out of the FA Cup, with only Harry Maguire and Josh Tymon drafted in. This was due to the restricted resources available to the Portuguese and was the same reason only six replacements were named after Jake Livermore fell ill.

These restrictions were compounded when Markus Henriksen was forced off after a 50-50 challenge with Paul Pogba and meant one of the manager’s six substitutes, Abel Hernández, was on by the 19th minute.

Just before this, slick interplay between Rooney, Darmian and Mata created a clear chance for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and when he missed Mourinho turned to his bench to show his disappointment.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic absent due to an illness, Mourinho had outlined what he hoped for from the first leg. “I’m happy with a small step to Wembley,” the 53-year-old said. “If we win the match, I’m happy. I think it’s very difficult against a Premier League team to have a fat result. I think they will come very well organised, to defend and try something in counter.”

Mourinho will have been pleased his side did all the pressing in the first half but less happy the match was goalless at the break. On 27 minutes the ever-improving Paul Pogba warmed Jakupovic’s hands with a dipping 25-yarder that the keeper tipped over for a corner. Next Pogba’s strength held off a Hull man before he rolled the ball to Rashford. The centre-forward glanced up, then blazed at Jakupovic though this time the visiting No1 could watch the ball sail over.

As the break approached a Robert Snodgrass corner from the left was headed out by Pogba. The ball went back to the same Hull forward and his effort was gathered safely by David de Gea. Next Snodgrass, who is a class apart in this Hull side, put in Hernández but the shot was weak.

With 45 minutes virtually up Rashford and David Meyler engaged in a race for possession in which the former appeared favourite until the latter got a foot in just as the No10 went to shoot from close range.

If Mourinho told his team at the break to become more ruthless this went unheeded by Mkhitaryan in United’s opening attack of the second half. Pogba prodded the ball forward but the Armenian’s touch was clumsy and Jakupovic could collect. Then Old Trafford was treated to a gorgeous pass from the Frenchman. This was hit on a low parabola just above Hull heads to skid delightfully into Rooney’s path. Again, though, the captain was profligate when shooting.

United were about to break the deadlock, though, via a five-man move. Rooney skipped inside and found Pogba. The midfielder fed Antonio Valencia on the right. He stood up the ball and the header from Mkhitaryan was turned home by Mata for his seventh this term. It proved to be Rooney’s last action as he was replaced by Anthony Martial, meaning the Liverpudlian could become United’s record scorer against Liverpool here on Sunday.

Replays suggested Mata was marginally offside though United will hardly care. They continued to coast through the contest. And Pogba, the game’s best performer just ahead of Mata, was about to offer the latest evidence why.

The 23-year-old controlled proceedings and when he stepped up and smacked a vicious free-kick against the right post he deserved more for his excellence .

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