Scott McTominay scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United booked their spot in the FA Cup fourth round with a slender 1-0 win over Watford on Saturday.
McTominay was one of only two survivors from the EFL Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday and the midfielder – captaining the Red Devils for the first time – headed his side in front after just five minutes.
Eric Bailly and Juan Mata squandered good chances to extend United’s lead before the interval, while Dean Henderson had to be alert to thwart Adam Masina.
United rarely threatened a second during a dismal second half but they saw things out with the minimum of fuss to inflict a 10th straight defeat for the Hornets at Old Trafford.
The hosts wasted little time stamping their authority on the tie, McTominay heading home his fourth goal of the season from Alex Telles’ outswinging corner in the fifth minute.
United goalkeeper Henderson was out quickly to deny Masina soon after, while Bailly flashed a header wide from another dangerous Telles ball into the penalty area.
Mata fired straight at Daniel Bachmann following a superb flicked pass from Donny van de Beek as United ultimately failed to add to their advantage before half-time.
Solskjaer brought on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial with just over 20 minutes remaining in a desperate bid to inject some life into the home team’s stuttering attack.
Rashford should have put the seal on the win, but his low effort after a fine run was too close to Bachmann.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 9, 2021
What does it mean? Below-par United do just enough
It looked like Solskjaer’s side would cruise to victory against their Championship opponents when McTominay opened the scoring early on, but they did not have it all their own way. The Hornets had 18 shots in total and could well have caused an upset had they managed to get more than just three on target.
While it was ultimately a routine win for United, Solskjaer faces an anxious wait to learn of the severity of Bailly’s injury, the Ivorian going off on the stroke of half-time after suffering a blow to the head.
Van de Beek shines
Solskjaer described this match as a “good chance to kick on” for Van de Beek and the former Ajax midfielder did just that. The 23-year-old completed 94.6 per cent of his passes – the highest ratio of any United player – and gained possession 11 times, three more than any other player on the pitch.
Lingard struggles in rare start
Jesse Lingard was well off the pace on just his second start of the season. While he did make three key passes, the England international failed to register a shot on target and lost possession 14 times.
Key Opta facts
– United have progressed from 34 of their last 36 FA Cup third round ties, last failing to do so in January 2014, losing 2-1 to Swansea.
– The Red Devils have progressed from each of their last 17 FA Cup matches against opposition from a lower division, since a 1-0 defeat to Leeds (League One) in January 2010.
– Scott McTominay has scored four goals in all competitions this season, one short of his best tally in a single campaign (five goals in 37 appearances in 2019-20) – and three of those have been scored in the first five minutes of matches.
– Alex Telles gained his first goal involvement for the club at Old Trafford with an assist. He created six goal-scoring chances for his team mates, only Bruno Fernandes has created more in a single game for United this season (eight against West Ham).
– Watford attempted 18 shots in the match, only in their 2-0 loss at Hudderfield (21) have they had more shots on the road in all competitions this season.
United travel to Burnley in the Premier League on Tuesday, then have a huge trip to Anfield as they face Liverpool next weekend. As for Watford, they host Huddersfield in the Championship next Saturday.