Juan Mata’s late free-kick earned Manchester United a 1-0 home win over Watford on Wednesday, a fourth successive victory that lifted their hopes of Champions League qualification.
Mata struck seven minutes from the end against a Watford side who deserved at least a point and who missed a host of chances, with Odion Ighalo the biggest culprit.
United’s teenage striker Marcus Rashford was unable to keep up the remarkable form that had brought him four goals in his first two games at senior level.
But Louis van Gaal’s side still managed to grind out a victory that allowed them to close the gap on the Premier League’s top four, all of whom dropped points in the mid-week matches.
Van Gaal stuck with Rashford in attack, with the fit-again Anthony Martial returning wide on the right.
He gave another teenager a full debut at centre-back, as Tim Fosu-Mensah came in for Michael Carrick, with Chris Smalling still unavailable following a shoulder injury.
United’s vigour caused Watford early concern, with a panicked Jose Holebas slicing Daley Blind’s left-wing cross towards his own goalkeeper, and Martial misdirecting a free header wide after Ander Herrera’s cross found him at the far post.