Bruno Fernandes scored one and had a hand in the other two goals as Manchester United continued their recent upturn with a 3-0 Premier League victory over Watford at Old Trafford on Sunday.
January signing Fernandes capped a man-of-the-match performance in style with his first goal for the club, nonchalantly converting a penalty he had won after being fouled by Ben Foster shortly before half-time.
- Ole: Fernandes like Scholes and Veron
- Premier League Table | Fixtures | Top scorers
- How Man Utd and Watford lined up
Troy Deeney had an equaliser ruled out by VAR following a handball by Craig Dawson, and Anthony Martial compounded the Hornets' misery moments later with an exquisite chipped finish over Foster - his third goal in three games.
Fernandes then set up Mason Greenwood for United's third, the teenager's explosive finish off the underside of the bar confirming an impressive victory that moves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side up to fifth, three points off fourth, and leaves Watford a point from safety in 19th.
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan-Bissaka (7), Lindelof (7), Maguire (7), Shaw (7), Fred (7), Matic (7), Fernandes (9), James (7), Martial (8), Greenwood (7).
Subs: Ighalo (n/a), McTominay (n/a), Chong (n/a).
Watford: Foster (5), Kabasele (5), Dawson (5), Cathcart (5), Masina (5), Hughes (6), Doucoure (6), Capoue (5), Deulofeu (5), Pereyra (5), Deeney (6).
Subs: Sarr (5), Cleverley (n/a), Welbeck (n/a).
Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes.
How Fernandes got Man Utd firing
Old Trafford paid an emotional tribute before kick-off to the late Harry Gregg, hero of the Munich Air Disaster, who passed away at the age of 87 last week.
The first half would follow a frustrating script for United, whose attempts to bypass the Watford press resulted in them surrendering possession in dangerous positions time and time again.
- Victor Lindelof and Mason Greenwood returned as Man Utd made two changes following the Premier League win at Chelsea.
- Craig Dawson replaced Adrian Mariappa in Watford’s only change from the 1-1 draw with Brighton.
A desperate block from Luke Shaw and the side-netting were all that stood between Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucoure firing Watford in front before United were able to muster a notable attempt of their own.
When it came, it fell for the wrong player, with full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka lashing wide with the goal at his mercy after Foster had palmed a cross into his path.
The openings kept on falling for Watford though, with Doucoure drawing a fine save from David de Gea with a thumping near-post drive on the half hour. When another came United's way, they couldn't hit the target, with Fred curling their best chance wide from 18 yards.
But the game swung in the hosts' favour four minutes before the interval. Fernandes was hauled to the ground by the on-rushing Foster, leaving referee Martin Atkinson with no option but to the point to the spot, and the Portuguese hopped forward before stroking his first goal for the club into the bottom corner.
It was a bitter pill for Watford to swallow after an impressive first-half performance, but things took a turn for the worse for the Hornets on 52 minutes, when Deeney's equalising goal was ruled out for handball after a VAR review.
And United rubbed salt into Watford wounds six minutes later. Fernandes released Martial in behind the Watford defence and, after seeing his initial effort saved by Foster, the Frenchman regained possession and lofted an audacious effort over the exposed Hornets stopper.
Greenwood drew Foster into a save with his feet and Harry Maguire spurned a glorious headed opportunity from an inch-perfect Fernandes cross as United pushed for more goals, and the pressure told for the third time with 15 minutes remaining.
Greenwood and Fernandes broke away on the counter and exchanged passes before the promising youngster fired an emphatic third in off the crossbar to wrap the victory, while Watford were sparred further damage when former striker Odion Ighalo struck the post late on.
What the managers said…
Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: "Very important [to get back-to-back wins]. We've given ourselves a mountain to climb at times, winning games and then losing and not being consistent. So to get six points, two clean sheets in six days in great.
"[Bruno Fernandes] has done fantastic. He has come in and given everyone a boost. He is showing his personality, he's a Manchester United character who wants to step out at Old Trafford, wants the ball all the time, wants to control the rhythm, help out his team-mates and conduct the play. The way he took the penalty was fantastic."
Watford boss Nigel Pearson: "It was a difficult day for us. We like to press from the front and our best opportunities came from those situations. We were opened up in the second half, they were clinical with their finishing. These are difficult places to come and they made the most of the situations."
Stats: Fernandes gets off the mark
- Bruno Fernandes is the first Manchester United player whose maiden Premier League goal for the club was a penalty.
- Watford have never won an away league match against Man Utd in 13 attempts (D2 L11), losing each of the last nine in a row since avoiding defeat in November 1985 in a 1-1 draw.
- Manchester United are only the second Premier League team to be awarded 10+ penalties in consecutive seasons, after Crystal Palace (2017/18 & 2018/19).
Man of the Match - Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United were far from their best against relegation-threatened Watford, but at the centre of the glimpses of brilliance we did see at Old Trafford was one man - Bruno Fernandes. United have been crying out for someone who relishes that creative role in midfield, and Fernandes seems to fit the bill with each passing game. A goal, an assist and a hand in United's other goal, Fernandes put his stamp on this game. If United are to secure a top-four finish, the Portuguese will be as crucial as any.
Live Renault Super Sunday
United host Club Brugge in Thursday's Europa League round-of-32 second leg at Old Trafford at 8pm, before travelling to Everton in the Premier League at 2pm on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Live Premier League
Watford host Premier League leaders Liverpool on Saturday Night Football at 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports.