Ronaldo double saves United from Hull
Manchester United 4 Hull City 3: Portuguese helps prevent another sensational result for Brown's Tigers
It is not just the cracks they have provided in the Premier League hegemony which have made Hull such a welcome breath of east coast air this season. It is the sheer energy that the Yorkshire charabanc can provide on days like this. "We are 'ull, we are 'ull" their fans yelled for most of yesterday afternoon and it is a message their players ensured Manchester United will not be forgetting in hurry.
Quite why Hull did not concede 10 goals here, Manchester United will perhaps never know. But their delight at belonging in the Premier League makes anything possible. They were behind inside three minutes, 4-1 down before the hour but trooped off knowing that, given five minutes more, they might have pulled off something even more remarkable than this scoreline and that they had just reduced Wayne Rooney to a wreck, booked and chasing round Old Trafford like a shaven lunatic.
Hull had slipped to sixth place last night, with United third, but it is in football's interests that the club Sir Alex Ferguson described in his programme notes yesterday as "the success story of the decade" now prevail. Ferguson later wrestled uncomfortably to rationalise what he had just seen. "Hull haven't been beaten away from home and there's always some credibility in terms of a victory that way," he said.
It was a tribute to them that he reacted that way and focused on Mike Dean's decision not to send centre back Michael Turner from the field for a second half foul on Michael Carrick which certainly looked like it merited a second yellow.
His opposite number was considerably more eloquent. Phil Brown does not have huge aspirations for his side – "I'm 50 on May 30th and I want to be a Premier League manager," he declared last night – but his energy is infecting his team and his fans. His responses to supporters' requests for a wave say everything about the wonderful lack of affectation this individual ha ought to the League.
"I'm not in the habit of gracing a field because there's world class players in the opposition to lose the game," Brown said after learning that no other side had scored three at Old Trafford since Chelsea, three years ago. "I've got more belief in [my team] than they have and if they start to believe as much as I do, that they are good players and compete in this level, we will show up on a more regular basis."
There was actually scant evidence of his half-time team talk working wonders. Hull were 4-1 down within 12 minutes of it and United's profligacy was astounding. But the attacking substitutes Brown sent on – Bernard Mendy and Peter Halmosi – contributed to a remarkable comeback. Flapping at a Daniel Cousin cross after 68 minutes, Patrice Evra managed only to head the ball into the path of Mendy whose lofted shot defied Nemanja Vidic's despairing attempts to hook it off the line. Rio Ferdinand clearly fouled Mendy in the box and Geovanni dispatched the penalty eight minutes from time.
It had not seemed the script when the latest in Ronaldo's backheel repertoire had sent United ahead in the third minute, the back of the Portuguese's boot depositing a ball fully a foot off the floor to Dimitar Berbatov who sent through the return ball Ronaldo struck in off the post. Turner's anxious lunge into Nani, for which he was booked, showed the struggle he was having, but the contest between Marlon King and Vidic was absorbingly even. Vidic's tug at King's shirt in 23 minutes brought a free kick which Andy Dawson crossed and Cousin deposited with a powerful header.
For the eight minutes that Hull were back on parity and their fans cheering every pass, memories of last month's 2-1 win at Arsenal floated back to mind. They vanished, along with Hull's defence, and United's goals were just a minor part of the avalanche.
A mighty move on 29 minutes saw Vidic, Rooney and Berbatov collectively deliver the ball from the edge of their own area to Carrick into the Hull box. Paul McShane stood off him and Carrick finished, the inside of Boaz Myhill's left post again coming to United's aid. There was an equal ease to Ronaldo's second (his sixth League goal in as many starts) headed home from a Nani corner and Vidic's ability to sneak behind Kamil Zayatte on 57 minutes to head United 4-1 ahead. "Who are you?" a roused Old Trafford finally demanded to know. The reply was waiting for them: "We are 'ull" – and before the afternoon was out, they were also telling us "this is the best trip we've ever been on."