Manchester United booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday evening, with a 1-0 victory over Watford at Old Trafford.
Scott McTominay scored the game’s only goal as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side advanced to the fourth round of the competition, with Watford failing to break down a resilient United team despite glimpses of quality.
Saturday night was always set to be a special one for McTominay on a personal level, after he was given the captain’s armband for the first time in his senior career. After putting the ball on a plate for Daniel James to sting Daniel Bachmann’s palms after only three minutes, the midfielder opened the scoring.
Bachmann, who did well to deny James’ powerful drive moments before, was unable to deny McTominay, who got ahead of Adam Masina and rose highest to head in Alex Telles’ corner. A perfect start for United – 1-0 up with only four minutes on the clock.
Another dangerous Telles corner caused the visitors all sorts of problems 10 minutes later, with Eric Bailly heading wide after finding himself unmarked in a hectic area.
This wasn’t before Watford had their first real chance of the game, though. Carelessness at a set-piece saw Adam Masina latch onto Andre Gray’s flick-on from a deep Will Hughes free-kick, with the defender taking a touch and having an effort blocked off the line by Axel Tuanzebe. A warning sign for Solskjaer’s men.
Ismaila Sarr was linked with a multi-million pound move to Old Trafford in the summer as Solskjaer looked to add a right-sided attacker to his armory – the winger showed his pace and power on 28 minutes, suggesting why United may have taken an interest in the Senegalese attacker.
The winger scurried after a clipped through ball from Joao Pedro, beating Telles in a foot race before attempting to chip Dean Henderson. His effort was off target and subsequently cleared.
But the Hornets were coming into the game after a poor start. Nathaniel Chalobah was the next to apply the pressure, and after a flurry of corners, he met a cleared ball with a driven effort from the edge of the area which was placed well wide.
United were to end the half on top, though, carving an excellent chance for themselves following a slick move involving Juan Mata, Donny van de Beek and Mason Greenwood. Mata fizzed a ball into Greenwood who found van de Beek, who nonchalantly flicked the ball through for the advancing Mata. His tame effort was denied by Bachmann. A golden chance to double the lead, as one minute was added on at the end of the first half.
The half-time whistle blew, shortly after Solskjaer was forced into making his first change of the contest. Harry Maguire replacing Eric Bailly, who was the recipient of a knee in the head by Dean Henderson following a cross. United good value for their lead at the break, but Watford showing plenty of pace in behind through the dangerous Sarr.
James, as he did in the first half, was to force Bachmann into action early in the second half, curling an effort which was easily parried away by the Austrian.
Watford went down the other hand and created a chance for themselves too, but Joao Pedro’s header lacked conviction after he met Sarr’s cross 12 yards from goal. That was to be Sarr’s last involvement, rather surprisingly, with Xisco Munoz opting to replace him with Ken Sema on the hour mark. Jeremy Ngakia also replacing Masina in a double change, as the Spaniard looked to add more presence down either flank.
Watford were creeping into this one and getting on top, forcing into Solskjaer into making changes. He went about his side putting this one to bed and going for the kill, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford replacing James and Mason Greenwood respectively, on 67 minutes.
Watford continued to push for the equaliser, though. Telles was given a yellow card for bundling Pedro over as the Brazilian looked to stretch his legs down the right. The resulting free-kick, whipped in by Sema, was inches wide of Henderson’s far post.
Xisco continued to freshen things up. Two more changes were made, with Ben Wilmot and Joseph Hungbo replacing Philip Zinckernagel and William Troost-Ekong. United looking to shore things up, with Nemanja Matic replacing Jesse Lingard.
Rashford was to get his first sight of goal on 80 minutes. The forward breezed past Will Hughes and then Wilmot, before drawing a shot which lacked conviction as he aimed for the far corner.
Xisco made his fifth change of the evening, with Daniel Phillips replacing Nathaniel Chalobah in a late bit to add a little inspiration going forward.
But despite throwing men forward late on, the Hornets were unable to apply the sting, and the full-time whistle blew. A home victory for United, and a place in the fourth round for Solskjaer’s side.
Not the most glamorous of performances from the hosts, but a game that was very much influenced and decided by McTominay’s early strike, on a special night for the 24-year-old in more ways than one.