Watford 2 Manchester United 0
Manchester United endured a frustrating Sunday afternoon before Christmas as Watford claimed a surprise 2-0 victory at Vicarage Road.
Despite dominating possession throughout the 90 minutes, the Reds were up against a resolute Hornets side who struck twice early on in the second half. Ismaila Sarr’s effort and Troy Deeney’s penalty were enough to give Nigel Pearson’s team the points on his home debut as manager.
United’s first chance of the afternoon came in the sixth minute as Anthony Martial hit a low effort narrowly wide of Ben Foster’s right-hand post. The Frenchman’s strike from just inside the area came after receiving a return pass from Daniel James following his own delightful flick out wide to the rapidly advancing winger.
The Hornets had the ball in the back of the net on 19 minutes, again having won a corner, but the whistle had gone well before any shot after Craig Cathcart knocked the ball out of David De Gea’s hands.
Solskjaer’s side dominated possession during the first half, with the hosts sitting in and relying on the counterattack. They had a chance from it when the ball ricocheted to Troy Deeney in the Reds box from a break initially started by the Watford skipper himself, but his shot was well blocked by Luke Shaw.
Shortly after the half-hour mark Jessie Lingard went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock. The England man was one-on-one with Foster having been played through wonderfully by Martial, but his chipped effort – which beat the Watford keeper – landed on the roof of the net.
The same pattern of play continued for the remainder of the first half and despite United’s front four continuing to probe, the hosts stood firm.
Five minutes into the second period and the home side found themselves in front when De Gea could only push Sarr’s shot onto the post, which then dropped into the net off the woodwork.
Scott McTominay looked to level immediately after with a headed chance, but Foster got behind his effort to save. Back at the other end Watford were then given a spot-kick when Sarr went down under the challenge of Aaron Wan-Bissaka as he looked to drive into the area. Following a VAR check the decision stood leaving Deeney to step up and double the Hornets’ lead by drilling the ball down the middle of the goal.
Following that double set-back the Reds were focused on trying to get back into the game, with McTominay again denied by the keeper.
Substitute Paul Pogba – making his first appearance since suffering an injury in September – played a neat ball to Rashford soon after coming on with the United front man winning a free-kick.
Rashford took the resulting set-piece but it was punched clear by Foster, who would go on to make several saves from Harry Maguire, Pogba and Rashford, while the Watford stopper was relieved to see Mason Greenwood loop an effort over the bar.
Watford held out for only their second victory of the campaign with the Reds now turning attentions to trying to get back to winning ways against Newcastle on Boxing Day.
The story of Watford v UnitedGallery
These are the standout images from our Premier League match at Vicarage Road.
Watford: Foster; Mariappa, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Sarr (Success 88), Capoue (Pereyra 77), Doucouré (Chalobah 69), Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney (c)
Subs not used: Gomes, Dawson, Masina, Gray
Booked: Capoue, Doucouré, Cathcart
Goals: Sarr 50, Deeney 54
United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (c), Shaw, Fred, McTominay (Mata 72), James (Greenwood 58), Lingard (Pogba 64), Rashford, Martial.
Subs not used: Romero, Young, Andreas, Matic