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Manchester United 1-0 Watford: McTominay goal sends dull Reds to FA Cup 4th round

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Can we just fast forward to the semi-final heartbreak?

Manchester United v Watford - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Manchester United earned a 1-0 victory Saturday evening over Championship club Watford at Old Trafford to move on to the fourth round of the FA Cup, following a fifth-minute goal from Scott McTominay.

Following the disappointing 0-2 loss to Manchester City in the EFL Cup semifinal, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used the match against Watford to heavily rotate his squad and give the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka some long-overdue rest. In a move that might have surprised some but was inevitable considering who was taking the pitch, McTominay would wear the armband for the Reds against their former Premier League opponents.

The skipper would make an immediate impact in the fifth minute on a set-piece. Alex Telles delivered an outswinger from the left corner that found McTominay in the center of the penalty area near the spot. McTominay directed the ball into the ground with his head causing the ball to bounce high towards the upper right corner of the goal. Miraculously, the ball had enough pace to beat the keeper and clang off the post and into the back of the net.

The Reds would control much of the first half and dominate possession while placing more shots on target, including one from Dan James who had a lively start with a couple almost chances put on target. But the scoreline would hold as United would ultimately not convert any more of its dominance into goals.

Any successes derived from the first half would have the air taken out of them during added time as Eric Bailly was felled by Dean Henderson’s friendly fire. During a Watford corner kick, Henderson came roaring off his line to punch the ball out of the penalty area, but to Bailly’s dismay, the defender would get taken out in the process and spent several minutes on the ground with the physios attending to him. Thankfully, he did walk off the pitch — albeit with the help of the medical staff — but he would not return as he was clearly shaken up by the contact with what could probably be assumed to be a head injury. Harry Maguire would come into the match for Bailly in the closing seconds of the half as we all crossed our fingers that Bailly’s exit from the match was merely a precaution.

What followed the okay first half for United was just a lot of nothing. Again, United controlled possession, but Watford looked more than comfortable to play without the ball. In fact, the Hornets would finish this match with twice as many corners as United while nearly matching as many shots. Despite the away side only finishing the match with three of its 18 shots on target, the match had that feeling in the second half — including a 15-plus minute period where the possession was 50-50 —that they could find an equalizer if United started napping.

But United remained resolute and kept a clean sheet against the sixth-best team in the Championship. Ultimately, the match proved to be exactly what you probably expected. When Solskjaer makes this many changes — which in this instance were very necessary — the team is just kind of blah. Sure, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial made appearances to try and kill the match off with another goal before Nemanja Matić entered the match to kill the match off by not conceding an equalizer, but it was a relatively toothless performance that doesn’t really require much more analysis. It was just one of those games that you get the job done and forget about it.

Now the Reds, with their tickets punched to the next round of the FA Cup, will likely feature a relatively refreshed typical XI on Tuesday, Jan. 12 when United travel to Turf Moor to take on a struggling Burnley in the league. Of course, the Clarets are currently 16th in the league with a -11 goal differential so expect a masterclass from Ginger Mourinho as United tries to take three points off one of their bogey-teams and move into f**** p**** in the Premier League table.