It was an early start for this game, and I couldn’t believe how many people were on the Central Line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. The journey to Manchester was uneventful. Our usual group were going to be split between two pre-match pubs, one nearer the city centre, the other near the ground. I met up with Pete at Piccadilly and, since the bar in Salford Quays wasn’t opening until midday and we were somewhat earlier than that, we headed to Deansgate to meet Graham and the Happy Valley Hornets. Graham had arrived early and gone for breakfast. While wandering in the area, he encountered a group of young men in hoodies and quickly realised that it was the lads out for a constitutional after their breakfast.
Our usual haunt didn’t open until midday, so an alternative had been chosen. A quick look at TripAdvisor had shown a large number of one star reviews. When we arrived it seemed OK, apart from the Man United memorabilia, but it went quickly downhill. For what appeared to be a local pub, it was a bit surprising that the beer was at London prices. But the clincher was when the barman, while clearing plates, knocked a pint of beer over the daughter of one of our group, claimed that she had done it and refused to provide a replacement. It was a relief to take refuge in our usual haunt, I don’t think that we will be going back to the White Lion.
The decision to go to the more central pub looked even more misguided when I couldn’t fight my way on to a tram. When I finally found a space to get on to one, it was the least crowded that had passed through so at least it was a relatively comfortable journey.
Knowing how restrictive the bag policy is at Old Trafford, I had packed carefully, only bringing things that I needed, but I still had a couple of things in a small bag. As I passed through the first phalanx of stewards, I asked one of them if I could take my bag in. He said that I could, and I passed through the next layer of security until I reached the one just before the turnstiles. At that point I was told I couldn’t take the bag in. I asked if it was OK to empty the bag into my pockets. They were fine with that but said that I couldn’t take the actual bag in even though it was a nylon drawstring bag that could be tucked into a pocket. At that point I gave up trying to reason and went back through the security cordons to the bag drop in the car park opposite. There I found a young lad with an even smaller drawstring bag telling the attendants that he didn’t have the £5 they were demanding to leave his bag there. I said that I would pay for him. The woman behind the counter kindly said that we could put our bags together so that I would only have to pay once, and I had to point out that I didn’t know this boy so we wouldn’t be returning together.
I was livid when I got into the ground. My mood wasn’t helped when I told my story only to find that two of our party had played the elderly card and brought in two bags that were considerably larger than mine and Mike had a Swiss army knife in his pocket!! So much for their stringent security.
Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.
Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence for Harry Gregg, survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster, who had passed away during the week. The silence was impeccably observed.
Watford had an early chance to take the lead as a defensive mistake allowed Deeney to escape, he broke into the box, but delayed taking a shot giving Shaw time to get back and make the clearance. It was a golden chance that went to waste. Troy had another chance to break, but Fred, while lying on the ground, managed to make a tackle allowing United to break and Greenwood to take a shot that was straight at Foster. The Hornets created another decent chance as Deulofeu crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman could only find the side-netting. Watford had a decent spell without testing the keeper, the next effort came from the home side and was a cross-cum-shot from James that Foster punched clear, it fell to Wan-Bissaka who shot into the side-netting.
Watford threatened again as Doucouré went on a good run, his cross was knocked down to Deeney whose shot flew wide of the far post. At the other end, a low shot by Shaw from the edge of the area was straight at Foster. It has to be said that, at this stage of the game, the United fans were uncharacteristically noisy. Martial went on a tremendous break but it came to nothing as his shot was well over the target. In the away end, a new song got an airing as the travelling Hornets appropriated “Tequila” from Tranmere, but the climax of the song became a shout of “Masina”. It was rather catchy. Doucouré then went on a run and tried his luck, but de Gea got a hand to the shot and pushed it out for a corner. Then Pereyra played in Masina, but he was slipping as he crossed and it was easily gathered by de Gea. At the other end, James cut inside and shot well wide of the target. The home side threatened again, this time James played the ball back to Fred just inside the area, but his shot was well over the bar. Capoue then provided some light relief winning a free kick with what could only be described as a swallow dive. It was elegant and effective, and the travelling faithful sang his name with some gusto. Just as we thought we would make it to half time with no score, James played in Fernandes, Foster came out to meet him and took him down. The United man made the most of it, but it was an obvious penalty. Fernandes took the spot kick himself, taking a stuttering run up before sending Foster the wrong way and putting the home side ahead. It could have been two after a mistake from Pereyra gave Fernandes another chance to score, but his shot was just wide of the target.
We were a little unlucky to be behind at half time, United had been poor but, as so often this season, Watford had not taken their chances.
The Hornets created the first half-chance of the second period as Doucouré crossed for Deeney, but Shaw intervened to put the ball out for a corner. From the corner, Deeney turned the ball in for what we thought was the equaliser. We had celebrated, the players had celebrated, but then I saw Martin Atkinson in discussion with Harry Maguire who was indicating that he thought there had been a handball. After consulting the VAR, Atkinson indicated upfield and I was momentarily hopeful until I realised that he was indicating a goal kick. Apparently, the ball had come off Dawson’s arm in the build-up, so the goal didn’t stand. The Hornets then won another corner but, on this occasion, the delivery from Hughes was easily caught by de Gea. The home side threatened again as James played a through ball to Greenwood, whose shot across goal was put out for a corner. Martial scored United’s second just before the hour mark. Foster blocked the initial shot, but the Frenchman picked up the rebound and cleverly lofted the ball over Foster and in from a tight angle. They had a decent chance for a third as Greenwood broke into the box and tried a shot that Foster saved with his feet. The first booking of the game went to Cathcart for a foul on Martial. United threatened again as Fernandes crossed for Maguire who headed wide.
With 20 minutes to go, Pearson made his first substitution, bringing Sarr on for Pereyra. The youngster went on a run almost immediately, but his cross was put out for a corner that came to nothing. With 15 minutes to go United were three up after Deulofeu lost the ball, Greenwood broke forward and played a one-two with Fernandes before finishing off the underside of the crossbar. It was a quality goal and you couldn’t see any way back for the Hornets. Pearson made a second substitution bringing Welbeck on for Deeney, who had had a disappointing game. The Hornets had a great chance to pull a goal back as Hughes fed Deulofeu but the shot rebounded off the crossbar. With ten minutes remaining, United made a triple substitution replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial with McTominay, Chong and Watford old boy, Ighalo. Pearson also made a final substitution bringing Cleverley on for Doucouré. Ighalo immediately created a chance after picking up a poor header from Masina, that was meant for Foster, he rounded the Watford keeper but took the ball too wide and could only hit the outside of the post. I was glad that he had missed as a goal against us from Ighalo would have been very hard to take. Watford had one last chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu took a free kick that flew over the wall but was an easy catch for de Gea. United could have scored a fourth when Matic released Chong who cut inside but he curled his shot just wide of the target.
The final whistle went on a comprehensive defeat for the Hornets. Unlike the Brighton game, I did applaud the players off and there was a surprisingly good atmosphere among the travelling Hornets. The Masina-Tequila song was getting a late airing, but the volume increased considerably with a rendition of “Ighalo-oh” for old times’ sake. Odion seemed to appreciate the gesture as he turned and applauded the Watford fans.
On leaving the ground, I went to pick up my bag, which looked pitiful sitting on the shelf. We then headed for the bar in Salford Quays to drown our sorrows. On the way, Richard (wearing Watford gear) was called upon to give directions to some people wearing United scarves. Bl**dy tourists! The bar was much more hospitable than our pre-match venue and, after a nice glass of wine, something to eat and a good moan about the football, I felt a lot better.
It had been a disappointing afternoon, especially as United didn’t play particularly well. The Watford performance had been better than the previous week, particularly in the first half, but once the goal was disallowed, all the fight seemed to go out of the lads and the result was never in doubt. There were a lot of subpar performances and the wisdom of playing both Deulofeu and Pereyra was questioned. They can both be luxury players and, in a scrap, as we are at the moment, we can’t afford that. Pereyra, in particular, had an odd afternoon seeming to wander all over the place leaving Dawson exposed. One of the topics of conversation was the Winter break. Given the staggered nature of it, it doesn’t affect all teams equally. Oddly, the Watford players looked rather rusty after their week off, while the United players, who should have been fatigued after a game in midweek, seemed a lot fresher.
With the visit of Liverpool next week, it is hard to see when the upturn will come and I am beginning to believe that the season will finish with the team being relegated. At least if Leeds do get promoted it will mean we won’t have to go there. Every cloud and all that!