Late winner transports United's supporters back to the days of Fergie time
Watford 1-2 Manchester Utd
Published 23/11/2015 | 02:30
This was the return of the late, late United show. Under a fading November sun, this victory by Louis van Gaal's team against a spirited Watford side was achieved through the latest winning goal recorded in a game by Manchester United since Alex Ferguson retired.
Among the visiting supporters at Vicarage Road, broiling in celebration as a 90th-minute own goal crawled over the line, the importance of the moment was not lost.
It may not have been pretty, but this win hinted that a fundamental element of the club's character had not - despite the past couple of seasons - been jettisoned.
"The thing about United is we are always known for comebacks," said winger Jesse Lingard.
So should we now acknowledge the arrival of a successor to a once-famed United trait?
The response to the winning goal was instructive. The United players forming a human pyramid atop Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose cross had precipitated panic in the home defence forcing the winner.
David de Gea, whose saves had been critical, joined in the delight.
For Watford and their resource-ful captain Troy Deeney, it represented the most miserable of conclusions.
Seconds after smashing home his side's equaliser with a penalty, Deeney became the holder of the unwanted record of the shortest time between scoring for your own team and the opposition in Premier League history.
"For us he is like the soul of the team," said Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores, exonerating his captain of all blame. "He represents values that we want for ourselves at Watford. He's fighting all the time."
Deeney had been critical in rallying Watford's resistance here.
Their centre-backs had been spectators when Memphis Depay, summoned by Van Gaal from the naughty step to plug a sudden diminution in attacking resources, demonstrated his sense of theatre by scoring a slick, smart opening goal.
But then, after Flores had delivered a sharp half-time lecture, Watford regrouped. Deeney and the excellent Etienne Capoue seized back the initiative, forcing De Gea into showing once again his crucial importance to United's ambition.
With five minutes remaining, Marcos Rojo needlessly upended Odion Igahlo to give away a penalty which Deeney duly dispatched with aplomb. But United summoned the ghost of victories past. Chris Smalling forced Heurelho Gomes into a spectacular save.
Schweinsteiger was able to cross back into the mayhem, forcing poor Deeney to negate his own act of resistance.
The scrambled winner momentarily took Van Gaal's side to the top of the division and sent the nostalgic visiting fans back in time.
"It was painful to lose, very hard," added Sanchez Flores. "Deeney is fighting every moment on every part of the pitch. He made the penalty and then scored the penalty. It is unlucky, but it is football."
Despite that slice of good fortune, United just about deserved their latest win.
Deprived of main strikers Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney through injury and illness, and without the options of Maroune Fellaini and teenager James Wilson, United manager Louis van Gaal placed his trust in Depay and was richly rewarded.
The £25million summer acquisition from PSV took just 11 minutes to grab his first Premier League goal and posed constant problems for the Watford rearguard.
"I knew he could do this. It was a superb goal, he finished it very well," Van Gaal said. "He played a very good match, like Jesse Lingard."
Of more concern to the United manager, whose next task is a Champions League visit from PSV on Wednesday, is a lengthening injury list.
Ander Herrera and Phil Jones departed with, respectively, a twisted ankle and a hamstring problem and are unlikely to face the Dutch side in midweek.