Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to lay the foundation for Manchester United's thrilling 4-3 over a Hull City side who came desperately close to pulling off yet another shock.

Ronaldo's 98th and 99th United goals, together with efforts from Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic, had given Sir Alex Ferguson's side a commanding 4-1 lead before the hour at Old Trafford Saturday.

But top-flight newcomers Hull have pulled off some outstanding away victories this season - most notably at Arsenal and Tottenham.  And they staged a stirring fight-back, with goals from Bernard Mendy and an 82nd-minute Geovanni penalty building on Daniel Cousin's first half-header as the reigning champions suffered an almighty fright.

There was little to suggest Hull were capable of running United so close when Ronaldo netted the first of his goals in the third minute.

Hull manager Phil Brown has made much of his backroom staff's attention to detail and the meticulous planning that has gone into making the club the surprise of the English Premier League season.

But any strategy was quickly consigned to the waste ban when Ronaldo drilled the ball past keeper Boaz Myhill after City centre-back Kamil Zayatte had failed to clear his lines.

The fear was that such an early goal for United would kill off the game as a contest but, after taking ten minutes to recover their poise, Hull responded excellently to force their way back onto level terms in the 23rd minute.

Brown had opted for a bold approach, pairing striker Marlon King and Cousin in front of Brazilian playmaker Geovanni and after enjoying a period of unexpected pressure, they equalised when Cousin met Andy Dawson's inswinging free-kick with a glancing header that beat Edwin van der Sar.

But if Hull's attacking intent was commendable, it proved costly six minutes later when a Vidic clearance triggered a lightening break that went through Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov before reaching Carrick. And Carrick's determination to keep up with play was rewarded when he steadied himself on the edge of the box before drilling a low shot into the right hand corner to restore United's lead.

Back in control of the game, United should have quickly added more goals but were guilty of over-elaboration, especially when Ronaldo went for goal with Rooney better placed.

Rooney was having a frustrating afternoon and complained angrily - but without justification - when he tumbled under the challenge of Dawson inside the Hull box two minutes before the interval. His protests were quickly quietened though, when Ronaldo connected with the resulting corner and headed past Myhill for United's third goal aided by a helpful deflection off Paul McShane.

Ferguson had criticised his team in midweek for failing to score more goals against West Ham when they were costing at 2-0 but the manager had less cause for complaint this time, with Vidic volleying home from Nani's corner 11 minutes after the restart.

Instead the United manager's anger was directed at his side's defence that was caught out in the 69th minute when Hull substitute Mendy was given the space to lob van der Sar and drag the visitors back into the game.

The match reached a thrilling climax eight minutes from time when a clumsy foul by Rio Ferdinand on Mendy allowed Geovanni to reduce the deficit to just one goal and ensure a nervous finale for United.