So much for the difficult start to the season.
Watford have now followed back-to-back defeats with successive wins and now have the same amount of points as champions Leicester. In deservedly beating Manchester United in front of a jubilant home crowd, Watford finally put to bed their 30-year wait for a league win over the Red Devils and confirmed, following the win over West Ham United, they are on the right track under Walter Mazzarri.
Etienne Capoue (who else?) gave them the lead and just when it looked like United, buoyed by an equaliser from Marcus Rashford, were going to throw the kitchen sink at Watford in one of their typical grandstand finishes, Juan Camilo Zuniga, of all people, popped up with the crucial next goal just seconds after coming off the bench. Not content with that, the Colombian, who was brought on as a defensive change, won the penalty that Troy Deeney slammed home for the third. Talk about icing on the cake.
Few could argue Watford did not deserve it. Not even Jose Mourinho. And you just had to see how Mazzarri, Mourinho’s great foe, reacted in the technical area to see what this victory meant. It is likely to go way beyond just the three points.
Watford were the more progressive side in the first half and should have been one up long before Capoue eventually put them in front. Ighalo was accused of being selfish the last time these two met but it was his radar that let him down this time. The empty goal was gaping after Chris Smalling and David De Gea made a pig’s ear of a punt upfield from Sebastian Prodl, but Ighalo embarrassingly spooned it wide.
From exactly the same position, but with the keeper to beat, Capoue showed his teammate how it should be done by sidefooting in his fourth goal in five games on 34 minutes. The finish was that of a man in the richest scoring streak of his career but owed much to the tenacity of Miguel Britos to win the ball back, and then the presence of mind of Daryl Janmaat to cut the ball back.
Janmaat also delivered the cross, this time with his left foot, that resulted in Deeney forcing a high class flying save from De Gea on 17 minutes. Watford were very much on the front foot and were not in awe of their expensively assembled opponents.
Although second best, United still offered a genuine threat at the other end and Watford had to be on their mettle defensively. Paul Pogba rattled the bar with a dipping strike from distance, Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have hit the target instead of the side-netting, Prodl had to execute a brilliant recovery tackle to deny the Swede and then Rashford curled one over at the end of the half. It was end to end stuff.
United cranked things up in the second half and the goal you feared was coming arrived just past the hour when Rashford converted at the second attempt. If anyone was going to grab a winner at that point it looked like being United, and they would have done so had Heurelho Gomes not pulled off a stunning save to deny Ibrahimovic. Mazzarri knew he needed to stem the tide and brought on Zuniga for Capoue.
Zuniga was supposed to help mind the shop but he found himself in the box to connect with a cut back from Roberto Pereyra and stroked it past De Gea. The Colombian is best known for the knee in the back that ended the home World Cup of Neymar but he floored United and then kicked them when they were down by winning a late, late penalty after penetrative play from Isaac Success. Deeney smashed in the spot-kick and that was that. After a slow start, Watford are well and truly up and running.
Watford: Gomes, Cathcart, Prodl, Britos, Janmaat (Amrabat 50), Behrami, Capoue (Zuniga 82), Pereyra, Holebas, Deeney, Ighalo (Success 89)
Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia (Mata 61), Bailly, Smalling, Shaw, Fellaini, Pogba, Rooney, Martial (Young 38), Rashford, Ibrahimovic.
Booked: Britos, Pogba, Holebas, Deeney, Fellaini, Rooney, Depay
Referee: Michael Oliver