Manchester United 1 Watford 0
Scott McTominay booked Manchester United’s place in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup with a first-half winner in a 1-0 victory over Championship side Watford.
It proved enough to see off a spirited Hornets side who were managed by their new boss Xisco Munoz for only the third time since his appointment just before Christmas.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made nine changes from the XI he fielded against Manchester City in last Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final. And after a blistering opening, inspired by McTominay, the third-round clash became somewhat subdued.
But United are at least in the draw for round four on Monday night.
Cup and running gallery
Check out some of the best FA Cup photos from Old Trafford, where a much-changed United team saw off Watford.
It may have been a much-changed United line-up but the team were all in tune right from the kick-off and got off to a flyer with skipper McTominay’s opener after just five minutes.
The goal might not have come quite as rapidly as the midfielder's double against Leeds United in the Premier League last month, but he proved again he’s no slouch from the opening whistle by powering a header downwards from an Alex Telles corner that took an enormous bounce to loop beyond Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.
It didn’t dampen the Championship side’s spirit and the Reds needed Axel Tuanzebe to hack the ball away from just off the goalline following Adam Masina’s shot.
The Telles corner route to goal almost paid off again in the 19th minute when his delivery was met by Eric Bailly, who stole space for himself in the box, but his header was glanced wide.
Watford, however, refused to lie down and Ismaila Sarr lobbed a high ball towards goal after breaking free from Telles. The Reds cleared but were defending desperately again after 32 minutes when our defence blocked several chances. The referee, Andrew Madley, turned down Watford appeals for handball by Bailly and then VAR endorsed the official's decision.
The Reds finally got back into a smooth groove late in the half when an intricate, flowing move, involving Mason Greenwood, the back-heeling Donny van de Beek and Juan Mata, ended with the latter having his shot saved.
The half ended on a worrying note when Bailly was clattered by Dean Henderson as our keeper came out to punch a ball clear and inadvertently caught the Ivorian in the head with his knee. The groggy defender was carefully escorted to the touchline by United's medical staff before being taken down the tunnel and replaced by Harry Maguire.
United were below par in the second half and with Watford’s danger subsiding, the tie was treading water.
In a bid to inject some new life into his side, Solskjaer brought on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to replace James and Greenwood after 68 minutes.
However, it was Watford’s sub Ken Sema who almost made the most telling impact of the new faces, with a free kick after 72 minutes that floated just over at the far post. It was a bit too close for comfort, though Henderson did watch it all the way to safety.
Opportunities were few and far between as the Reds struggled to find top gear on a cold night with neither a Maguire header or a Rashford shot really testing Watford keeper Bachmann.
Nevertheless, United saw out the tie and made it through to the next round.
United: Henderson, Williams, Tuanzebe, Bailly (Maguire 45+4), Telles, McTominay, Van de Beek, Mata, Lingard (Matic, 79), James (Rashford 68), Greenwood (Martial 68).
Subs not used: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Fred, Fernandes, Ighalo
Goal: McTominay (5)
Booked: Tuanzebe, Telles
Watford: Bachmann, Navarro, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong (Wilmot 76), Masina (Ngakia 57), Sarr (Sema 57), Chalobah (Phillips 83), Hughes, Zinckernagel (Hungbo 76), Joao Pedro, Gray.
Subs not used: Foster, Dalby, Barrett, Crichlow.