United battled their way to a 2-1 win at Vicarage Road on Saturday in a game where they displayed much more togetherness than previous matches
The sight of Jose Mourinho sharing applause with the Manchester United fans at the Stretford End of Old Trafford following the 3-0 loss to Tottenham in August seemed conciliatory at the time.
But that moment of togetherness has seemingly helped to turn around their early-season form, with smiles very much back on the faces of all of those of a United persuasion following their 2-1 win at Watford on Saturday.
Two quickfire first-half goals had Mourinho, his staff and his players every bit as delirious as the travelling army of United fans, with the general mood around the camp a far cry from what it was just a few weeks ago.
Beating Burnley away before the international break was one thing, but Watford were flying after recording four wins in their opening four Premier League games. They’d even seen off the same Spurs side who had previously hammered United last time out.
But from the first whistle United looked like the team in form, dominating possession and territory early on even if they seemed to have little threat in the final third as the home side defended compactly and left the Reds depending largely on crosses from wide positions.
When that didn’t come off, Watford broke well and occasionally bullied United’s sizeable defensive stocks in the opposite half. At times it felt like the first half of the 3-2 loss to Brighton might be about to be repeated as the hosts threatened David de Gea’s goal on multiple occasions.
Yet just as Watford seemed to be getting on top of the game, United struck with two quick sucker-punches. First, the home side allowed Ashley Young’s left-wing cross to escape for Romelu Lukaku to nudge the ball in with his torso. The Hornets players surrounded referee Mike Dean asking for a flag but Lukaku had been kept onside by two sleepy defenders.
Within three minutes they’d netted a second as Marouane Fellaini teed up Chris Smalling with the home defence again caught out. The United centre-back chested the ball up and smashed home a left-foot finish reminiscent of many an accomplished striker.
It sparked the kind of overwhelming reaction amongst the United contingent that have barely seemed possible at times given the various degrees of ire surrounding their opening results and the multiple ills experienced on the summer tour.
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Mourinho has gone from a man trying to talk up a 3-0 home defeat to a manager looking entirely satisfied with what he is witnessing from his side. Even when Watford finally got the goal their performance deserved, with Andre Gray firing home as United stood off midway through the second period, the visitors’ response was that of a convincing unit as they saw off a late onslaught from Javi Gracia’s men and even absorbed the injury-time sending-off of Nemanja Matic. At full time, Mourinho again marched straight towards United’s visiting fans to applaud and greet them.
This camaraderie and togetherness has pulled United out of the hole in which they found themselves and they now find themselves level on points with the Spurs side that pulled them apart in the second half at Old Trafford just 19 days ago. Football really can change in so short a space of time.
There is still plenty of work to be done of course. United remain six points behind joint-leaders Chelsea and Liverpool – now the only teams boasting a 100 per-cent record as a result of United’s win – but the feel-good factor inside Mourinho’s camp is certainly much improved after an excellent win on Saturday.