Manchester United's quest for the top four grinded to a halt as Hull City produced an efficient performance to secure a vital away point in their attempt to avoid relegation, though they could have stolen even more as Lazar Markovic hit the post late on.
Jose Mourinho showed his respect to a Hull City side that ran United close over two legs in the EFL Cup as he picked a strong starting eleven. A flurry of superstar names took their place on the bench, including Anthony Martial who did not warm-up as speculation continued over his future at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile Marco Silva resisted the temptation to throw his Deadline Day recruits straight into action, with Andrea Ranocchia named as a substitute in the wake of captain Michael Dawson passing a late fitness test. January signings Oumar Niasse, Evandro and Lazar Markovic did earn starting berths in a new look Hull attack.
Organised Hull defensive unit frustrate free-flowing United
The Tigers have been guilty of sitting too deep at times this season but looked to play a high defensive line from the outset as they attempted to usher Zlatan Ibrahimovic as far away from the goal as possible. Rather than going direct they also looked to pass out from the back, though the first opportunity of the match was formulated from a set-piece as Harry Maguire headed Evandro's free-kick wide.
Yet United gradually grew into the game as they dominated the ball. Ibrahimovic fired just over, before Marcos Rojo looped a header onto the roof of the net and Daley Blind volleyed off-target as the hosts began to produce some excellent combination play.
Whilst Mourinho's men hogged possession, Hull were forced deeper despite wanting to play the offside trap. Lone striker Niasse grew frustrated as he was unable to hold the ball up and lunged into a couple of untidy challenges. However United were struggling to make their dominance pay as Ibrahimovic dropped deep to affect the game and Henrik Mkhitaryan looked to run in behind.
Ibrahimovic had a sighter from distance but his effort was weak, before Markovic lashed a rare Hull effort wildly over from distance. Yet in between the best opportunity of the game fell to Paul Pogba. Much of the game was running through Michael Carrick in the engine room and his astute pass was cleverly flicked on by Ibrahimovic. Pogba found himself with just Eldin Jakupovic to beat but the Hull goalkeeper pulled off an outstanding save to keep the scores level at the break.
Hull go close to stealing all three points as Markovic hits the woodwork
Mourinho felt the need for a more attacking influence and replaced Carrick with Wayne Rooney, as Pogba dropped into a deeper role in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Yet it was the visitors who settled into the turnaround the better as both Sam Clucas and Lazar Markovic had opportunities to test David De Gea but overplayed in the penalty area.
United offered a different approach through a more direct route and Pogba picked out Marcus Rashford with a long ball. The England youngster took it down with a deft touch but mishit his shot harmlessly wide. The hosts were beginning to look more threatening and that opportunity was followed by an Ibrahimovic volley that flew wide after Rooney could not make contact with a bicycle kick.
Mourinho threw Juan Mata into the mix as he looked to work the tight spaces, whilst Ranocchia made his debut for the visitors in place of Josh Tymon and Hull reverted to a back three. Abel Hernandez also replaced Niasse as he continued to walk the disciplinary tight rope after referee Mike Jones offered his final warning.
The tempo of the game grinded down after the flurry of substitutes but one of the fresh faces almost had an impact not long after his arrival. Ander Herrera found Chris Smalling and his header across goal found Mata six-yards out but his goalbound effort was incredibly kept out by the legs of Jakupovic. The Spaniard then worked the ball to Ibrahimovic who cut inside but found Jakupovic in inspired form oncemore.
As time began to tick away, United grew increasingly frustrated and Ibrahimovic went down in the penalty area after leaning into Tom Huddlestone. The protests were waved away despite Mourinho's explosion of fury on the touchline. Hull then nearly went and stole three points as United lost the ball in midfield and Huddlestone fed Markovic. The attacking midfielder shaped to shoot one way but clipped his effort the other side of De Gea only to see the ball strike the post. Hernandez then found himself with another golden opportunity for the Tigers but miscontrolled when through on goal and ultimately fired a tame effort that was comfortable for the United number one.
The drama was not over there as a Rojo header forced another save from Jakupovic before Pogba had a late effort punched clear. The Tigers managed to hold out for a point that left United four points off the Champions League places. A great result for the Tigers ensures they are the same number away from safety at the other end of the table.