Manchester United took a step closer to reaching the EFL Cup final as goals from Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini earned the Reds a 2-0 victory over Hull City in the first leg of the semi-final.
The Reds had to be patient against the resilient Tigers but, after a frustrating first half at Old Trafford, the impressive Juan Mata eased any lingering nerves by poking home from close range in the 55th minute.
After Paul Pogba had earlier struck a post with a free-kick, substitute Marouane Fellaini put further daylight between the two sides with a header late on.
With the comfort of a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg at the KCOM Stadium on January 26, Jose Mourinho’s men will be confident of progressing to Wembley to face either Southampton or Liverpool next month.
Despite the crucial Premier League encounter against Liverpool on the horizon, Mourinho – who has expressed his desire to lift the League Cup for the fourth time in his career – fielded an attacking line-up showing seven changes from Saturday’s FA Cup win over Reading but top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed out through illness.
The Reds almost took the lead as early as the second minute after Matteo Darmian broke up Hull’s passing sequence and sped down the left-hand side before picking out Mata, whose curling shot from the edge of the area was parried by Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic.
Hull, currently bottom of the Premier League, have never previously reached this stage of the competition but the side under the new management of Marco Silva were intent on making life difficult for the Reds from the outset.
The Tigers threatened for the first time when Harry Maguire drove at the United defence but his low shot was comfortably saved by David De Gea, before Markus Henriksen was forced off with a shoulder injury after just 19 minutes and replaced by striker Abel Hernandez.
With the visitors pinned back in their own half, United established a firm foothold and created a series of openings, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan twice fired off target from Mata crosses before Antonio Valencia lashed another effort over the crossbar from a Rooney knockdown.
Pogba then tried his luck with a spectacular 35-yard shot which was palmed over for a corner by Jakupovic before Marcus Rashford also fancied his chances from distance with a swerving effort that flew narrowly over.
Although dominating possession, United could not find the decisive moment in the first half and were almost breached at the other end when Adama Diomande drifted offside prior to his downward header rebounding back off the post.