On a night that may have seen 40-year-old Ryan Giggs’s final appearance at Old Trafford, another man born Wilson, 18-year-old James Wilson, celebrated his debut with two goals in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Hull City.
For the final match of a dismal home season, Giggs, continuing his duties as interim manager, elected to continue with the club’s tradition of giving youth a chance that led to his own emergence as a 17-year-old, handing a first start to Wilson as well as fellow youngster Tom Lawrence. And just as Giggs did in his first start for the club 23 years ago, Wilson justified his manager’s faith by getting on the scoresheet. The striker with seven goals in nine appearances in the Under-21 Premier League this season showed his instincts in front of goal by finding the net in each half before Matty Fryatt hit a reply for a Hull side managed by a man who lined up alongside Giggs on his first start, Steve Bruce.
With Giggs’s future yet to be decided either on or off the pitch, he had suggested that he would combine his managerial and playing duties for the first time since replacing David Moyes. Sure enough he emerged to a thunderous cheer with 20 minutes remaining. Despite the crowd’s urging, he was unable to continue his record of finding the net in every Premier League season but did supply an assist for the man with whom he replaced Wilson, Robin van Persie.
While it remains to be seen whether this was Giggs’s final competitive outing at the Theatre of Dreams, it definitely was for another club stalwart Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian, joining Internazionale on a free transfer this summer, joined the fray sooner than was likely planned when replacing Phil Jones midway through the opening half. The defender, apparently suffering from a shoulder injury, must now be a major fitness doubt for England ahead of the World Cup.
After suffering the most home defeats since they were relegated 40 years ago, there was at least something to cheer for the Old Trafford faithful at the end, although in truth it was a match that had an untimely feeling of a preseason friendly. Still, the win keeps United’s slim hopes alive of overhauling Tottenham for the final Europe League place, although it would take a Tottenham loss at home to Aston Villa coupled with a United win at Southampton on the final day.
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After a woeful defeat at home to Sunderland on Saturday, the match and the atmosphere inside Old Trafford were both incredibly flat. Marouane Fellaini was given a first appearance under Giggs and a rare outing in the advanced midfield role with which he was most impactful at Everton. While it is difficult to see the powerful Belgian occupying that role for Untied in the long term, on this day United did look to play to his physical strengths and it could have led to a goal for Wilson inside just three minutes.
Adnan Januzaj’s deep aerial ball was headed back across the six-yard box by Fellaini but Wilson whiffed at his first chance in a United shirt. Lawrence, playing on the left wing, soon gave a better account of his ability with a fine run past two opposition players before a powerful effort deflected off Maynor Figueroa and over the bar.
Because of how much a fixture in the side he has been this season, it is easy to forget that Januzaj is still a youngster himself and, indeed, at 19 is a year younger than Lawrence. And while Lawrence and, especially, Wilson, will grab the headlines, it was Januzaj who was the game’s star performer and had the ability to regularly lift the match from its slumber.
Unsurprisingly, it was the attacking midfielder who played a role in the opening goal in the 31st minute. It was an almost repeat of United’s first chance of the match, this time Januzaj struck a deep cross from a free-kick, Fellaini headed it back into the danger zone, only this time Wilson, again showing his alertness, fired crisply low into the net on his left foot.
United, who had several penalty appeals for handball waved away, started the second half brightly. Januzaj was at the heart of things again, with his chip hooked wide by Wilson before the Belgian forced a good save from Eldin Jakupovic.
Januzaj was at it again just past the hour mark to help put United 2-0 to the good. He surged forward down the right before laying the ball on a plate for Fellaini to get his first United goal. Instead, the former Everton midfielder hit his effort straight at Jakupovic and it was left to Wilson to finish coolly on the rebound.
Hull provided an immediate response when Fryatt smashed a fine effort into the corner from 25 yards with what was Hull’s first effort at goal of the contest. Fryatt was one of a number of fringe players given a starting chance by Bruce as he looks to keep everyone in good shape ahead of their FA Cup final. David Meyler’s place at Wembley is now under threat, though, in absurd fashion, after the midfielder blatantly stamped on the shin of Januzaj late on and will surely receive retrospective punishment.
Already secured of surviving relegation, there was in truth even less intensity about Hull’s play than their opponents. And they succumbed to a third goal with four minutes remaining. Two of the home side’s substitutes combined with Giggs rolling the ball into Van Persie in the box and, although the Dutchman saw his initial effort blocked, he finished clinically at the second attempt on his weaker right foot.
The only thing missing was a goal from Giggs. It so nearly arrived with a free-kick from 25 yards, but Jakupovic played spoiler by tipping it over the bar. Minutes later, a year on from a similar speech from Sir Alex Ferguson, there were no retirement words from Giggs but he again urged the fans to display patience. The supporters will hope that this time around what follows makes it far easier for them to do so.