Nigel Pearson say he is “very confident” that his Watford team can avoid relegation from the Premier League after they collected just their second win of the season against Manchester United at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets moved within six points of safety and level on points with Norwich in 19th after defeating a dismal United side that remain eighth.
“We are in a difficult situation but I believe we can get out of it,” said new Watford boss Pearson.
“We needed that very badly because it would have been difficult to go beyond Christmas without a win.
“I thought we did some good things, deserved to win the game and there is more to come.
“In the situation we are in, we have do anything we can to win a game. The players committed to the game exceptionally well.
“I’ll be very confident we can get out of this situation.”
Watford were helped on their way courtesy of David de Gea’s error for their opening goal, with the Spanish keeper allowing Ismaila Sarr’s mishit shot to bounce through his arms and strike him in the face as it entered the net.
Troy Deeney compounded a miserable day for United as he registered his first league goal since April with a penalty after Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s foul on Sarr.
Not even the introduction of Paul Pogba – returning after a near three-month absence – as a substitute could raise United, who failed to register a shot on target until the hosts were already two goals ahead.
And while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side did attempt to chase the game, Watford also had chances to add to their tally and deserved only their third league victory ever over United.
Ponderous United punished again
Solskjaer celebrated his first anniversary in charge of Manchester United on Thursday but while his first game in charge resulted in a thumping 5-1 victory at Cardiff, this performance was the polar opposite.
A recurring complaint throughout the season has been United’s lack of midfield creativity and the ability play through teams in the bottom half of the table.
And this was another unimaginative and ponderous display, which was eventually punished by their resolute opponents.
Fred and Scott McTominay both struggled to impose any rhythm from midfield while Daniel James, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial failed to provide any spark in the final third.
Lingard has now gone over 25 hours since his last goal or assist in the Premier League, and notably missed United’s best opportunity of the afternoon, chipping over when one-versus-one with Ben Foster with the game goalless.
And that made it easy for Watford to follow the same template used by Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle and Bournemouth in their victories over United while struggling towards the bottom of the table.
United’s best performances have tended to arrive against teams where they have been able to launch quick counter-attacks, but as in their draw with Everton last week, Watford left little space in behind their back four and outworked their opponents.
Hornets have renewed hope
Since Nigel Pearson’s appointment as Watford manager on 7 December, the Hornets have taken four points from three fixtures, with their only defeat coming against runaway leaders Liverpool.
The display at Anfield, where they were narrowly beaten, showed a level of commitment and endeavour rarely seen under former bosses Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores this season.
And this was very much a continuation of that effort, albeit against a side without the same attacking finesse as the leaders.
Aided by the return to full fitness of their talismanic forward Troy Deeney, who was starting just his sixth game of the season after a knee injury, Watford made this a scrappy affair and ultimately deserved their win.
Deeney covered nearly a kilometre more than his United counterpart Martial as he made life uncomfortable for the visiting defence and that was replicated all over the pitch, with Pearson’s side running over 5km more than their opponents.
That hard work was also rewarded by a level of good fortune as they scored with the first two shots on target in the game.
This victory will provide renewed hope that they can follow Burnley, Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom and survive in the Premier League having earned 12 points or fewer after 18 matches.
Man of the match – Ismaila Sarr (Watford)
‘We were too slow’ – Solskjaer
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, speaking to Match of the Day: “We didn’t deserve to win the game by the way we played. We were too slow in possession, too slow without the ball, not enough intensity.
“We didn’t have enough to get back. You have to be out there and ready. First half both teams were slow. If you don’t take your chances you get punished. We didn’t deserve it today. They took their chances. We didn’t take our chances. You have to earn every inch, every chance.”
On David De Gea’s mistake: “It’s one of those things. He’s been so good in training and focused. One goal is a mistake and the second is penalty. David’s been very confident lately and I don’t look at any other way.”
On Paul Pogba’s comeback: “The big plus is Paul coming on. And that’s the one plus. He added urgency, quality, some great passes. The boy has been working hard. He’s fit and leaner. He’ll bring us a lot. He is important for us. He makes us create more chances.”
On-the-spot Deeney – the stats
- Watford ended a run of 12 home Premier League matches without a win (D5 L7), with this their first win at Vicarage Road since a 4-1 win over Fulham in April.
- Manchester United suffered their heaviest Premier League defeat against a team starting the day bottom since April 2005, a 2-0 defeat to Norwich City.
- This was the first time Watford had won a Premier League game against a team starting the day in the top eight of the division since October 2018, when they beat Wolves 2-0.
- Three of Manchester United’s last six Premier League defeats have been against teams starting the day in the relegation zone (also vs Cardiff in May and Newcastle in October).
- In the Premier League, Troy Deeney has scored a penalty for Watford against Manchester United at Vicarage Road in four of the last five seasons.
- Since saving a Leighton Baines penalty in October 2014, David de Gea has failed to save any of the last 15 penalties he has faced in the Premier League. Among goalkeepers to face 20 or more, only Paul Robinson (6%) has saved a lower percentage than de Gea (8%, 2/25) in Premier League history.
- United’s Jesse Lingard has now gone over 25 hours without registering either a goal or assist in a Premier League game, last doing so in December 2018 against Huddersfield Town (one assist).
- Manchester United have won just one of their last 17 Premier League matches when they’ve had more possession than their opponents (W1 D8 L8), a 3-1 victory at Norwich City in October. They had 64% of possession at Watford.
Watford travel to Sheffield United for their next Premier League outing on 26 December (15:00 GMT). Manchester United play on the same day when they welcome Newcastle to Old Trafford (17:30).