Troy Deeney scored at both ends of the pitch in a frantic finale as Manchester United beat Watford 2-1 to move to the top of the Premier League.
Memphis Depay, who had been left out for the previous two matches, scored with a brilliant volley from Ander Herrera’s cross early in the game and it looked like that strike would prove decisive.
David de Gea made an excellent save from Almen Abdi in the second half but United were not to keep a sixth consecutive clean sheet as Deeney scored a late penalty after Marcos Rojo had fouled Odion Ighalo in the box.
United secured a dramatic victory in stoppage time, though, as Deeney scored an own goal as he attempted to keep out Bastian Schweinsteiger’s cross-shot.
Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City all have the chance to surpass United at the top of the table when they play their respective fixtures later on Saturday.
Ighalo was passed fit for Watford, who made one change to their team with Jurado replacing Nathan Ake.
There were four changes for United, with Depay brought back into the side to lead the attack as they attempted to cope with Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and James Wilson all being ruled out.
Van Gaal said before the game that Depay’s performances this season had been disappointing, but the attacker made an impressive early impact.
On 11 minutes, Herrera whipped in a cross from the right and Depay connected with a first-time left-footed volley into the top corner.
Watford top scorer Ighalo tried to respond when he twisted and turned impressively before slicing off target after Ashley Young had been robbed by Etienne Capoue, who set up the opportunity.
United suffered a blow midway through the half when Herrera pulled up injured while chasing down Ikechi Anya and had to be replaced by Rojo.
The visitors came closest to finding the game’s second goal prior to half-time when Morgan Schneiderlin volleyed just over with an impressive effort after Watford had failed to take several opportunities to clear their lines.
They also threatened when Depay cut inside from the left and forced Heurelho Gomes into a diving stop with a shot from outside the box.
United created another good opportunity at the start of the second half. Depay latched on to a poor pass from Capoue and played in Jesse Lingard, whose shot was pushed away by Gomes.
De Gea was called into action for the first time when substitute Ake and Ighalo combined to set up Deeney to lash a powerful shot straight at the goalkeeper.
At the other end, Depay came close to sealing the victory with a clever attempt which fell just wide after he had been fed by Juan Mata.
The game was in the balance and De Gea had to get down superbly to tip an Abdi shot away at his near post after Chris Smalling had only half-cleared the danger with a header in a crowded goalmouth.
Deeney drove another powerful strike straight down the throat of De Gea, while Lingard failed to chip Gomes with a late opportunity.
Just as it looked as if United were going to hold on for victory, Deeney headed on a long pass and Rojo fouled Ighalo from behind in the box.
Captain Deeney stepped up to take the penalty and converted high past De Gea as the hosts celebrated what they thought would be a valuable point.
The drama was not over, though, as Lingard’s shot in stoppage time was saved by Gomes and Schweinsteiger’s attempt from the rebound was diverted over his own line by a sliding Deeney.
Key Opta stats:
– Memphis Depay’s goal was the first that Watford have conceded in the first half of a game at Vicarage Road since January 24th 2015 (v Blackpool).
– Depay had 67 touches in this match – Wayne Rooney has only had more than this in one of his 11 Premier League appearances this season (68 v Arsenal).
– Ander Herrera has had a hand in four goals in his last six Premier League appearances for Man Utd (two goals, two assists).
– Louis van Gaal’s side went 641 minutes without conceding a goal before Troy Deeney’s strike from the penalty spot.
– Deeney became the first player to score a goal and an own goal in the same Premier League match since Damien Delaney in May 2014 (Crystal Palace v Liverpool).
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