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Watford 1 Man Utd 2: Hornets’ perfect start to the season ended by Red Devils

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THEY MAY have built a reputation of being devils in red – but Manchester United were last night pretty in pink.

Watford 1 Man Utd 2: Hornets' perfect start to the season ended by Red Devils

GETTY

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku celebrates his goal
(Pic: GETTY)

Those famous blood-red shirts were swapped for ones of an altogether different hue at Vicarage Road – but this was no lily-livered showing – and their season is slowly gathering momentum.

Yes, the colour of their jerseys might have been diluted but this was no watered-down performance as Jose Mourinho’s side played the Hornets at their own strong-armed, no-nonsense game.

Two goals that were the direct result of problematic set-pieces gave the visitors breathing space in a purple patch towards the end of the first-half.

Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling benefitted from Marouane Fellaini’s prowess under the high ball, grabbing the goals as Mourinho deployed the big Belgian international to devastating effect.

And although Andre Gray reduced the deficit with a sidefoot finish to set up a frantic finale going into the final quarter, the visitors refused to buckle.

In fact, by the final whistle, Mourinho once more had keeper David de Gea to thank for his save in the final minute of injury-time.

The keeper pulled off a quite magnificent stop from Christian Kabasele’s header to protect the points.

However, Manchester United’s boss will be without Nemanja Matic who will miss next week’s home clash with Wolves after being sent off for the second of two bookings in the dying seconds.

Make no mistake – this trip to Vicarage Road was the Premier League equivalent of playing with fire.

Watford boss Javi Gracia picked up the Manager-of-the-Month award before kick-off following four straight victories.

And both Mourinho and his team would have known that becoming the hosts’ fifth victims this season would have sparked suggestions that the title race would not be involving his club.

Defeat would have left them nine points behind the early-season pacesetters. And with all three of the undefeated sides currently cutting a swathe through the Premier League, the vice really was being turned.

Of course, few relish a trip to Vicarage Road at the best of times.

Now that the benchmark of a cold night in Stoke has been lost due to the Potters’ demotion from the big league, perhaps the acid test for any team is a dust-up in Hertfordshire.

The main action of the opening half-hour centred on David De Gea’s goal, the Spaniard tipping over a drive from Troy Deeney as Watford sensed a vulnerability.

Slowly but surely however, the visitors plugging away. Sanchez saw one strike chalked off after straying offside and the hosts’ bright start gradually faded.

The breakthrough came ten minutes before the interval.

Ashley Young’s deep free-kick was was by Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian international’s first effort at playing the ball into the dangerzone was cleared back to the left-back.

His cross took a slight deflection which was enough to flummox Watford’s defence and take keeper Ben Foster out of the equation. It fell perfectly for Lukaku who allowed the ball to hit his midriff and hit the net.

Three minutes later, the Hornets were again undone by a set-piece.

It was again Fellaini who was the target of a deep corner. The ball was nodded goalwards where Chris Smalling chested down on the edge of the six-yard box, swivelled and struck a sweet volley past Foster before the shot-stopper had time to react.

The reaction on the visitors’ bench perhaps betrayed just what kind of fix Mourinho would have been in, had United not triumph.

The Portuguese grabbed hold of the nearest body to him, gave them a hug and then clasped Michael Carrick around the back of the head and brought him into the brief bromance.

That goal knocked the stuffing out of Watford. It was clearly alien to them to be on the back foot.

But had Foster not somehow kept out a close-range Pogba volley at the far post, the situation would have been irretrievable at half-time.

That at least left Troy Deeney & Co. with faint hope of salvaging something from the wreckage.

Those prospects were given a huge boost when Abdoulaye Doucoure – the game’s outstanding player – forged forward.

He received the ball back from Will Hughes and pulled the ball back for Gray to fire past de Gea and raise the prospect of late drama that only the Spaniard’s heroics prevented.

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