Manchester United reached the League Cup final but were made to sweat as Hull City won the second leg of their last-four encounter 2-1 on Thursday to come within one goal of forcing extra time.
Hull’s Oumar Niasse scored in the 85th minute to reduce the aggregate deficit to 3-2, but there was to be no fairytale comeback for the Premier League relegation strugglers who were spirited in their efforts to overturn their 2-0 first-leg defeat.
Tom Huddlestone had put the hosts ahead after 35 minutes from the penalty spot, but they were unable to turn the screw and allowed a much-improved United to claw their way back into the match after the break when Paul Pogba stabbed in an equaliser.
Niasse steered home a David Meyler cross from close range but Jose Mourinho’s side held on to set up a clash against Southampton in the final at Wembley on Feb. 26 after the Saints upset Liverpool on Wednesday at Anfield.
It was Mourinho’s 54th birthday, but the Portuguese did not seem in celebratory mood as he cut short his post-match television interview after one question, having seemed visibly annoyed on the touchline with a number of referee Jon Moss’s decisions.
“I just want to say congratulations to my players. It was a difficult road to be in the final and we are in the final,” Mourinho told Sky Sports after his side’s 17-game unbeaten run came to an end.
“I don’t want to say anything else. It is enough, I am calm, I behaved on the bench so no more words,” added the Portuguese, who has been given two touchline bans this season.
Hull faced a daunting prospect to drag themselves back into the tie and made seven changes to their starting lineup in a sign that manager Marco Silva had perhaps already decided a Wembley final was beyond them.
The encounter had the feel of a foregone conclusion too as both sets of players seemed to be going through the motions in a dour opening when neither side created a chance before the deadlock was broken after 35 minutes following a penalty decision that caused initial confusion.
Replays showed that United defender Marcos Rojo had barely tugged the shirt of Hull’s Harry Maguire, who tumbled to the ground before Huddlestone rifled the spot kick into the bottom corner.
It was not until the second half that United showed true signs of life and they had their own penalty appeal waved away when Chris Smalling tumbled to the ground after contact with Huddlestone, sparking an angry touchline reaction from Mourinho.
His mood mellowed, however, with 25 minutes remaining when Pogba pounced on a misplaced ball from Huddlestone in his own area to stab United level on the night and restore their two-goal aggregate cushion.
Rojo and Niasse rattled the crossbar with headers at either end before the latter set up a nervy finale for United, who will bid for a fifth League Cup triumph and first since 2010 when they face Southampton next month.