Given the meaningless nature of this game for United fans, It was perhaps inevitable that the travelling Reds would preoccupy themselves far more with celebrating the recent birthday of George Best than the business of sending another celebrated United old boy, Steve Bruce, down to the championship, which many understandably approached, at best, with mixed feelings.
Bruce’s Hull, needing a win to have any chance of staying up, inevitably had more crucial matters on their mind and immediately looked the side with greater purpose. Huddlestone’s superb ball over the United defence for Jelavic almost brought an early goal for Hull, but the Croatian found the angle too tight and his attempt to loop the ball over Valdes came to nothing.
The veteran keeper’s blushes were soon spared when a simple handling error appeared to lead to a Hull opener, but former United reserve McShane was flagged offside after putting the ball into an empty net. Valdes soon redeemed himself with a superb save from Elmohamady’s shot before the flag again came to the Reds’ rescue after the defence had done well to get out early and leave N’Doye offside when he tapped into the net.
Injuries early in the game have been a headache for United all season and today was no exception, Di Maria having his return to the first team truncated by injury after barely twenty minutes. He was replaced by Januzaj and, coincidentally or not, the United midfield began to look more composed. In contract, the home side’s attacking play had an increasingly frantic look about it as, with the roars of a nervous home support in their years, they struggled to recover their earlier threat.
The goalless half-time score scarcely dampened the mood of the far calmer visiting support, especially when news filtered through that Liverpool were continuing to commemorate Gerrard’s impending departure in the most fitting manner by going in at half-time 5-0 down at Stoke.
Their mood was almost lifted further when United almost took the lead, Mata exploiting a Hull defensive error by putting in Herrera only for his shot to be blocked by Dawson. The resulting break from the home side then ended with Meyler blazing a shot over the bar. When news came through of a goal for Newcastle, it both dampened the mood of the home fans still further and potentially relieved United of their role as Brucie’s executioner. Herrera duly went close again, a shot from the right of the box trickling just past the far post.
At the other end, Valdes did nothing to enhance his CV in applying for the role of De Gea’s successor when he came out and completely missed a punch under challenge from McShane. Again he was spared responsibility for anything more serious, this time by Valencia’s clearance. McShane and N’Doye then both went close as Hull attempted to clutch at a vital lifeline. One of those phantom waves of celebration that you get on the last day went round the KC Stadium, perhaps signalling to the players good news elsewhere but actually signifying nothing at all.
The other side of Valdes was again seen when he produced a brilliant reaction save to deny a near-post flick from Jelavic. Inexplicably in such a meaningless game for the Reds, Fellaini, who’d come on as a substitute for Young, received a deserved red card when he went in with his studs up on McShane. In truth, had the referee seen a deliberate punch on Jones from Hernandez minutes earlier, it would have been ten men aside, but there can be little excuse for the Belgian’s challenge, which means United will begin 2015-16 already with one player unavailable.
Hull immediately looked to make the extra man count and, when Valdes palmed away a shot from Elmohamady, the ball fell to Hernandez, only for his shot to be blocked. News that Newcastle had added a late second meant that the home side’s efforts were going to be in vain anyway. The game duly drifted to a goalless draw, a first point against United scant consolation for Hull as they look ahead to Championship football next season. Meanwhile, little will be read into a limp final display of the season from the Reds.