Ashley Young scored two superb goals against his former club as Manchester United beat Watford 4-2 to trim Manchester City’s lead at the Premier League summit to five points.
England international Young netted twice in six first-half minutes at a freezing Vicarage Road on Tuesday, with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard also on target.
After two successive away defeats, it was a timely win for Jose Mourinho’s United, who visit Arsenal on Saturday, and gives City food for thought ahead of their meeting with Southampton on Wednesday.
Young had seen his deflected match-winner against Brighton and Hove Albion chalked up as an own goal by Lewis Dunk, but there was no denying him his brace against the club where he made his name.
It was by no means a straightforward win, however, with substitute Troy Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucoure bringing Watford within sight of a famous comeback before Lingard’s fine solo goal settled matters.
Victory also came at the cost of an injury to United holding midfielder Nemanja Matic, who gingerly made his exit early in the second period.
Seeking to register a third successive league win for only the second time in the Premier League era, Watford began by spraying the ball around assertively, but in the blink of an eye they were 3-0 down.
United landed the first punch in the 19th minute when Young just beat Kiko Femenia to Lingard’s pass on the edge of the box before rattling a vicious shot into the bottom-left corner.
It was his first goal since May 2016 and within six minutes the 32-year-old had completed his first brace in over five and a half years.
A foul on Paul Pogba by Doucoure gave United a free-kick 25 yards from goal in a central position and Young whipped a beautiful effort into the top-left corner.
With Lingard supporting Martial and Romelu Lukaku in a 3-4-1-2 system, United were set up perfectly to hit Watford on the break and in the 32nd minute they were three goals to the good.
Christian Kabasele did not get enough purchase on a clearing header and Lukaku intelligently volleyed the ball into the path of Martial, who adroitly steered a low shot past Heurelho Gomes.
Had it not been for Gomes it would have been 4-0 by half-time, the Brazilian getting down to save from Lukaku and then reacting extraordinarily quickly to palm Lingard’s follow-up over the bar.
Watford fashioned their first real chance in first-half stoppage time after Femenia motored across the pitch and crossed from the left, with Richarlison’s header clipping the crossbar.
Injuries bit for both teams in the second half, Matic hobbling off for United, to be replaced by Ander Herrera, and Watford’s Will Hughes giving way for Roberto Pereyra after injuring his hamstring.
Watford head coach Marco Silva also sent on midfielder Andre Carrillo, shifting to a back four, and his side began to look more dangerous, Richarlison heading wide from another Femenia cross.
There was a further lift for the home fans when Deeney made his return after a three-game suspension.
United squandered several chances to extend their lead, with Lukaku the chief culprit, twice shooting wide and then dawdling over a chance made by Pogba, enabling Adrian Mariappa to get back and block.
Deeney reduced the arrears with 13 minutes left, sending David de Gea the wrong way from the spot after a rash foul on Pereyra by Marcos Rojo.
Doucoure made it 3-2 with six minutes remaining, neatly stabbing in Carrillo’s cross, but Lingard killed off Watford’s comeback hopes with a brilliant 70-yard run and an assured low finish past Gomes. – AFP.