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Sunday 17 December 2017

United level with noisy neighbours

Man Utd 1-0 Watford

Manchester United's Memphis Depay runs between Watford's Almen Abdi and Allan-Romeo Nyom (front) Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United's Memphis Depay runs between Watford's Almen Abdi and Allan-Romeo Nyom (front) Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Juan Mata gave Manchester United's top-four hopes a timely shot in the arm, firing home a late free-kick as Watford's missed chances came back to haunt them.

Doom, gloom and speculation about Louis van Gaal's future was replaced by positivity last week, with wins against Shrewsbury, FC Midtjylland and Arsenal complemented by teenager Marcus Rashford's remarkable emergence. It had looked like United would be brought down to earth with a bump against Quique Sanchez Flores' impressive Watford outfit, only for captain Mata's free-kick to secure United a 1-0 win.

The result moves Van Gaal's men level on points with fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand, on a night when things could have been so different had the visitors turned large patches of dominance into a goal.

Odion Ighalo came close on a number of occasions in the first half, with Sebastian Prodl threatening from set pieces as Watford continued to impress after the break.

However, they were struck by an 83rd-minute sucker punch as Mata directed home a left-footed free-kick in front of the Stretford End, extending United's winning run to four matches in all competitions.

It was an unconvincing performance but United gradually got going as the match entered the final 30 minutes, with Mata stinging Heurelho Gomes' palms before Rashford sent in a low ball that evaded a telling touch in the six-yard box.

Watford were left to rue their profligacy after Miguel Britos brought down the returning Martial. Mata stepped up and produced a classy strike that beat Gomes and sent Old Trafford wild.

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