MAN UTD 0, WATFORD 0
Only time will tell just how costly the four points Manchester United have surrendered against relegation-threatened Watford this season will prove.
The Reds remain in the top four, but their hold on to a Champions League spot remains precarious with teams immediately below them having played fewer matches.
It was a glorious opportunity for Ralf Rangnick’s side to strengthen its grip on fourth place against the Hornets who are languishing in the bottom three.
United, whose 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in November cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the manager’s job, huffed and puffed and lacked a cutting edge.
True, they were unlucky in the opening minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo, now with only one goal in 10 games, struck the upright and they had other clear-cut chances.
But there is something fundamentally wrong when a side creates 22 goal attempts and fails to find the net with only three of them on target.Embed from Getty Images
It was a frustrating afternoon for Rangnick who said: “We dominated the game completely. It feels like two points dropped and we had enough chances to win the three points.
“It is not the first time we have dropped two points in an important match.
“We did everything apart from score. It’s hard to take that result. In the end, if you miss that many chances, it is difficult to win the game. We were in full control for almost the whole game, we didn’t allow them hardly any counter attacks.
“We need to be sharper in front of goal, you can hardly create more chances than we did today. In the end it is a very frustrating afternoon.
“Had anyone told me that we would create that many clear chances I would have said ‘yes, that is enough for us to score one of two goals at least’. But we didn’t.”
On Ronaldo hitting the post, Rangnick added: “That was not the only one [chance]. In the first half we had five massive chances then in the second half we had another three or four. Today we had enough chances to win that game.
“Sometimes we are unlucky, when we hit the post, but we also had a few opportunities one-on-one with the goalkeeper. This is not luck. It is a question of sharpness and efficiency in-front of goal.”
Watford manager Roy Hodgson, who has won twice and drawn twice on his last four visits to Old Trafford, was delighted with the desire shown by his side.
He said: “I am very proud of the team, and they should be very proud of themselves.
“How many teams at the bottom come here and get something.
“At the end of the day our hard work, determination and desire showed as we took a point.”
Hodgson added had confidence been higher, his side might have snatched the lead.
He said: “There were four or five occasions in the last 10 minutes when United were going for victory.
“We broke away and had three or four good opportunities when all that was missing was the final pass and the quality that happens when you are at the bottom of the table.”
Rangnick made four changes to the side that started the 1-1 Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.
Anthony Elanga, who scored the equaliser for United in that game, was brought into the side along with Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Nemanja Matic.
Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw and Jadon Sancho dropped to the bench.
Hodgson made one change to the side that began the 4-1 midweek defeat by Crystal Palace at Vicarage Road.
Jeremy Ngakia came in for Kiko Femenia, who was not even named among the substitutes. Joao Pedro and Juraj Kucka were named on the bench.
Joshua King started despite exacerbating a back problem during that defeat by Palace. He was one of four ex Reds in the Watford side as he joined Ben Foster, Tom Cleverley and Craig Cathcart.
There was a poignant joint team photo before kick-off with the United and Watford players and managers holding a sign with the word ‘peace’ in various languages, as the conflict in Ukraine remained uppermost in everyone’s thoughts. It was Rangnick’s idea and embraced by the club.
Cristiano Ronaldo came close to given United the lead after four minutes. Wan-Bissaka delivered a low cross from the right and the striker produced a neat turn before his shot struck the base of the upright.
Ben Foster than produced a superb save to deny Bruno Fernandes, captain in Maguire’s absence, as Elanga put him clean through on goal.
Ronaldo had the ball in the net after a slick build-up involving Elanga and Fernandes, but he had strayed marginally offside.
Fernandes then volleyed wide from six yard from Paul Pogba’s cross as it only looked a matter of time before the deadlock was broken.
There were further chances as Fernandes headed over and Telles bent a free kick wide as United just could not find a route to goal in a one-sided opening period.
Shortly before half time, United had a penalty appeal quickly turned down by referee Kevin Friend and VAR following Cathcart’s clumsy challenge on Elanga.
It was more of the same at the start of the second period as United had claims for a second penalty rejected following Hassane Kamara’s challenge on Ronaldo with the appeal more in hope.
Elanga then shot wide from eight yards after Pogba had flicked Fred’s pass into his path as he burst through on goal.
Fernandes then dribbled to and along the by-line before cutting the ball back to Ronaldo whose shot was blocked as he kicked the upright in frustration.
United made their first change just after the hour as Fred made way for Sancho as they looked for new ways of breaking the deadlock.
Rangnick’s final two cards were played with 16 minutes left, Shaw and Rashford replacing Telles and Matic.
Shaw made an immediate impact crossing for Wan-Bissaka who headed wide.
United toiled in their efforts to conjure a winner, though Sancho went close, bending an effort just over from the edge of the box.
And in the third and final minute of added time, Watford so nearly snatched all three points when a drive by Ismaila Sarr from outside the box flashed past the upright.