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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

Man Utd stutter past Watford into FA Cup fourth round

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men win 1-0 in match which never got going

Scott McTominay of Manchester United celebrates after scoring the game's first and only goal. Getty
Scott McTominay of Manchester United celebrates after scoring the game's first and only goal. Getty

Stand-in skipper Scott McTominay secured Manchester United's safe passage to the FA Cup fourth round with an early header against Watford.

Three days on from the galling Carabao Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made sweeping changes with crunch Premier League matches against Burnley and leaders Liverpool looming large.

McTominay was one of two survivors from Wednesday's loss and led United out as captain for the first time with his early header proving enough to seal an unconvincing 1-0 victory against the Sky Bet Championship outfit.

Donny Van De Beek, Jesse Lingard and Brandon Williams were among those brought in against the Hornets but the sheer number of changes meant the hosts struggled for coherency in a forgettable third-round encounter.

There had been high hopes when academy graduate McTominay's downward header went in off the far post but Solskjaer's men failed to put their foot down as Watford targeted their set-piece frailties.

Recently-appointed Hornets boss Xisco Munoz saw his side push until the end at an empty Old Trafford but they failed to create clear-cut openings against a United side that never got going.

Solskjaer will be relieved to be in Monday's fourth-round draw after a match that had started with so much promise.

Daniel James fired a shot bound for the top corner until Daniel Bachmann's near post save.

The Watford goalkeeper pushed behind for what proved a costly fifth-minute corner with McTominay meeting Alex Telles' ball with a header into the ground that bounced in off the far post.

United continued to look dangerous but their soft underbelly from set-pieces gave Watford hope. One Will Hughes' free-kick was flicked on, and Adam Masina was denied by a mixture of Axel Tuanzebe and Dean Henderson.

Eric Bailly headed wide from a corner when the hosts returned to the attack but their defence was looking uneasy and the Ivorian faced handball appeals after some penalty box pinball.

After Watford's dismal Premier League 2019/20 campaign ended in relegation, winger Ismaila Sarr was linked heavily to the Red Devils - and here he showed flashes of danger. Nathaniel Chalobah briefly menaced too and fired a low shot wide as United continued to lack attacking fluidity.

But Solskjaer's side did click into gear impressively as half-time approached and a fine team move ended with Van De Beek sending a sumptuous flick through for Juan Mata to get a shot away on Bachmann's goal.

Injury-blighted Bailly fails to make second half

The unremarkable first half ended in an enforced changed for United after Bailly was caught in the back of the head by goalkeeper Henderson when punching clear.

After lengthy treatment, the defender walked off groggily and was replaced by Harry Maguire, who reclaimed the captain's armband from McTominay at the break.

The second period got off to an even start with Joao Pedro stretching to get an effort on Henderson's goal in between comfortably saved James and Mason Greenwood attempts at the other end.

 Manchester United's injury prone centre-back Eric Bailly receives medical attention after sustaining a head injury. Reuters
 Manchester United's injury prone centre-back Eric Bailly receives medical attention after sustaining a head injury. Reuters

Solskjaer introduced Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in a bid to add some increased intent to the hosts' attack with substitute Ken Sema's set-pieces looking Watford's most likely avenue to a leveller.

Maguire had a header and Rashford was denied by a low Bachmann save as the match entered the final 10 minutes. Watford substitute Joseph Hungbo did see a strike deflected wide late on but the Hornets failed to find an equaliser.

Published: January 10, 2021 03:27 AM

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