David de Gea error gifts basement club Watford an early Christmas present

Manchester United goalkeeper badly at fault in allowing Sarr's effort to slip through is fingers as Deeney penalty sees Hornets win for first time under new manager

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Watford 2 (Sarr 50', Deeney 54' pen)

Manchester United 0

Watford, bottom of the Premier League with one win from 17 games and none at home, defeated Manchester United 2-0 as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side once again were undone by a team at the wrong end of the table.

Watford who had until Sunday scored just four times at home in 2019/20, deserved their triumph under new manager Nigel Pearson. They didn’t look like a team ready for the drop.

Not for the first time, United conjured up a diabolical performance against a struggling team. They simply don’t win against teams when they have the majority of possession.

“Today is not about amount of possession,” said Solskjaer. “It’s about quality - the two goals we conceded. The first one is a freak goal, a mistake. The second goal is a bad mistake, making that tackle. Two goals in three or four minutes is bad.”

They toil trying to break teams from the lower half of the league down. They don’t take their chances when they do. United sit eighth in the table courtesy of victories against the best. It’s baffling that the side which played so fluently against Manchester City lacked movement, accurate passing, confidence and cutting edge, for the first half at least, against Watford. Every time United appear to be moving forward under Solskjaer they splutter and stop. Every time pressure builds against the manager, they get a result. There has to be more consistency.

It was a year since Solskjaer’s first win as United manager, at Cardiff, but the mood 12 months on could not have been more different. Watford began as brightly as the strong December sun on the year’s second shortest day. Pearson had them pressing high on United’s full-backs Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan Bissaka, limiting their ability to get forward. The Hornets had played well in their previous game, a defeat way to Liverpool, but their final pass in attack was either absent or ineffective in the opening 45 minutes against United. Watford looked every bit the side who had not scored in the league since last month, but United were hardly cutting edge either. They succeeded in dangerous passes forward. with Jesse Lingard skewed the best chance of the first half, chipping the ball onto the roof of the net when he was through against Ben Foster.

Watford didn’t sit back, with midfielders Will Hughes industrious and Etienne Capoue as effective as he was at Old Trafford in March. It led to an open game, but with Watford’s track record of conceding goals in the second half, United would have been optimistic of their chances after the break.

If only.

Four minutes into the second half, Watford went ahead for the first time in a game this season when their £32 million (Dh153m) record signing Ismaila Sarr hit a volley downwards which slowly bounced up towards De Gea's goal. The ball had no pace on it and the Spaniard tried to gather it, only for it to slip through his fingers. There was a pause of incredulity as it entered the net before Vicarage Road rejoiced. De Gea, for so long United's best player, has kept just two clean sheets in the league this season.

Watford added another two minutes later after Wan Bissaka wiped Sarr out to see a penalty awarded. Captain Troy Deeney, who hadn't scored since April, struck the ball straight down the middle to compound United's misery.

United had overturned a 2-0 deficit to lead Sheffield United 3-2 a month ago and brought Mason Greenwood on for Dan James to try to spark a similar revival. Paul Pogba replaced Lingard after 63 minutes for his first appearance since September. The Frenchman did well, the only positive for United on another sorry day. “The best all-round midfielder in the world, it’s great to have him back,” said Solskjaer. United were otherwise ineffective.

As they anticipated the heady prospect of only a second league win against United in 25 years, Watford fans cheered ironically whenever De Gea had the ball hoping he would gift Watford another goal. United had already given them two early Christmas presents.

Greenwood came closest to scoring for the visitors with an 84th minute chip and a shot five minutes late but United drew a blank, with three sides of the ground singing "Watford FC!" as the final whistle blew.

"We were organised, disciplined and the work ethic of the team was exceptionally good,” said Pearson. “It’s incredible that our first home win is on 22nd December. It was a very important result to try and stay in contact with teams.”

United have won only six of their 18 league games so far. Not even close to being good enough for a club of United’s stature, talent and resources. For Watford, time to savour their unlikely victory and dream of an equally unlikely escape.


Watford 2 (Sarr 50', Deeney 54' pen)

Manchester United 0