Spirited Watford set up a barnstorming finale but they ultimately again learnt the hard way that if you make mistakes against the best sides, you will be punished as Manchester United won 4-2 at Vicarage Road.

The visitors looked to have the points in the bag by half-time after a brace from former Hornet Ashley Young and an Anthony Martial goal had Jose Mourinho’s men emphatically in the driving seat with a 3-0 lead at the break.

And that was how it stayed for much of the second half, with United missing further chances to go further in front, but a Troy Deeney penalty gave the Hornets a glimmer of hope and that belief intensified when Abdoulaye Doucoure netted a second with six minutes of normal time remaining.

But those hopes of a comeback were to be rapidly extinguished by a superb solo effort from Jesse Lingard, although questions again have to be raised about how the hosts dealt with the situation.

In the final analysis though, the game was lost by half-time as a number of mistakes were punished for the first and third goals, while Doucuoure’s foul on Paul Pogba led to Young curling in a magnificent free-kick for United’s second.

Following back-to-back wins and consecutive clean sheets Marco Silva opted to leave as much alone as possible, making just the one enforced change with Sebastian Prodl replacing the injured Miguel Britos.

Interestingly, Jose Mourinho decided to match the Hornets up by going with three at the back which meant United’s starting XI showed two changes from the one that beat Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0 at the weekend.

Marcos Rojo came in for his first Premier League start of the season and Lingard also got the nod, with Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata dropping down to a bench that also had Zlatan Ibrahimovic in reserve if necessary.

United, as expected, had plenty of the ball from the opening whistle, with much of their early attacking play coming down the Hornets’ right as they sought to utilise the attacking qualities of Vicarage Road old boy Young and Martial.

Watford were content to play on the counter in the initial stages and after Doucoure had combined neatly with Tom Cleverley on the left, with the latter’s cross coming to nothing, the hosts had a better opening as Kiko Femenia cut in off the right and crossed into the danger zone where Victor Lindelof did enough to prevent Richarlison from getting a touch.

The home side had a reasonable spell in the United half thereafter, with Doucoure, Will Hughes and Richarlison all enjoying some eye-catching moments either while passing or in possession.

The Hornets continued to look the more composed side, only for the majority of Vicarage Road to be plunged into silence in the 19th minute.

The problems began when Romelu Lukaku spun away from Prodl in midfield and played the ball forward to the edge of the penalty area where Christian Kabasele dived in and didn’t get the ball, affording Lingard the space to spread it out to the left where Femenia miscontrolled and Young was onto it in a flash, drilling a first-time right-footed shot inside Gomes’ near post to score against the club where he first made his name.

It was the vital the Hornets, if they couldn’t get back on terms quickly, kept the deficit to one goal for a period, but within five minutes they were to find themselves with the proverbial mountain to climb after Young had netted a superb second goal.

This time the goal came from a free-kick; Doucoure yellow-carded for pulling back Pogba after his French compatriot had the beating of the Hornets’ midfielder in a race for the penalty area.

Young took his time to size up the opportunity from around 25 yards before whipping a magnificent right-footed over the wall and into the top corner past the helpless Gomes to make it 2-0.

Vicarage Road was stunned and it had barely had time to recover before United punished more defensive mistakes with barely half-an-hour on the clock.

Femenia could only help a Young ball forward from left-back, both Prodl and Femenia were sucked out of position by the inter-play between Lukaku and Martial, ultimately leading to the former sliding the latter into the vacated space and he calmly fired past Gomes to make it 3-0.

Watford did gain some respite for a spell in the opposition half, with Rojo booked for holding back Andre Gray, but when Adrian Mariappa was also yellow-carded for going through the back of Martial the Hornets found themselves facing another Young free-kick to close to the edge of their 18-yard box for comfort. On this occasion though, United’s two-goal man could only hit the wall.

But the visitors really should have had a fourth at the end of the first half – and would have done but for the excellence of Gomes.

Again the problems stemmed from a mistake, this time Doucuoure presenting Lukaku with a shot on the edge of the area which the Belgian international accepted, hitting a right-footed strike which Gomes dived to his right to parry to the right side of the 18-yard box where the on-rushing Lingard looked certain to convert, but the back-tracking Hornets keeper managed to superbly tip over his own bar.

Having survived that let-off, the Hornets came within a whisker of getting a goal back in first-half injury time when Femenia embarked on a cross-field attacking run before standing up a cross from the left side of the penalty area, Richarlison meeting it with a firm header which beat David de Gea but not his crossbar.

Despite their predicament, the Hornets made a positive start to the second period and they were to have a penalty appeal turned down in the 52nd minute when Chris Smalling pulled back Prodl at a corner.

Instead of getting the benefit of Jon Moss’ decision though, the hosts soon found themselves anxiously defending as Lukaku played the ball across the six-yard box with no-one in a red shirt in position at the far post to apply the decisive touch.

With one eye probably already turning to facing Arsenal on Saturday, Jose Mourinho made the first change in the 54th minute as Nemanja Matic was replaced by Ander Herrera.

But Watford, and Hughes in particular, were to suffer more misfortune soon after when the midfielder pulled up with a hamstring injury and he made way for Roberto Pereyra, with Silva also taking the opportunity to bring on Andre Carrillo for Prodl as the hosts switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape.

Rashford was to replace Martial in the 64th minute, moments after the Hornets had created an opportunity when Richarlison did well to get up at the far post to meet Femenia’s cross from the right, but he was unable to direct the header on target.

The hosts continued to push forward, with Carrillo combining well with Pereyra to work some space on the left side of the area before the Peruvian international cut the ball back, but it wouldn’t fall for anyone in yellow.

Deeney’s return from his month on the sidelines due to suspension came in the 72nd minute when he replaced Gray. And within a minute of entering the fray the Hornets skipper was trying to get on the end of a misdirected Doucuoure shot.

United had been largely content to sit on what they had, but with 16 minutes remaining a Lingard free-kick from wide on the right was to pick out Pogba, who headed over.

And they went closer still moments later when Mariappa was caught in possession by Rashford, he squared for Lukaku, who rounded Gomes, but the Watford defender got back to block.

Another chance came and went for the visitors when Lukaku took on and beat Femenia on the outside before hitting a shot back across goal and narrowly wide of the far post.

But Watford were to gain some reward for their endeavours with 12 minutes remaining when Pereyra honed in on goal from the right side of the penalty area, only for his run to be illegally halted by Rojo conceding what was a clear penalty.

The referee also had no doubt and Deeney calmly did the rest, sending de Gea the wrong way to make it 3-1.

It still looked to be too little, too late but the home side had more belief and sought to push forward at every opportunity – and with six minutes to go that belief was further fuelled.

Tom Cleverley brought the ball forward in the inside right channel before passing it out to Carrillo, who laid it across into the area where Doucuoure finished with an outstretched right foot into the far corner.

But no sooner was the comeback potentially on then it was off again as Watford lost possession when an attack broke down and Lingard latched on the ball before embarking on a stunning mazey run downfield that ended with him firing past Gomes with a low shot to make it 4-2.

It was an excellent individual goal but again fingers had to be pointed at Watford’s defending; first at Cleverley for not ‘taking one for the team’ and trying to halt Lingard’s run on halfway and then Mariappa, who backed off when the goalscorer was running at home.

Lingard’s ‘reward’ for scoring was to be replaced by Ibrahimovic, but Watford were to again go close to bringing the deficit back to one goal when Richarlison closed in from the left side of the penalty area and stabbed the ball towards goal, only for it to be cleared by de Gea’s legs.

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Prodl (Carrillo 58), Kabasele; Femenia, Doucuoure, Cleverley, Zeegelaar, Hughes (Pereyra 58), Richarlison; Gray (Deeney 72). Subs not used: Karnezis, Janmaat, Wague, Capoue.

Manchester United: De Gea; Lindelof, Smalling, Rojo; Valencia, Matic (Herrera 54), Pogba, Young; Lingard (Ibrahimovic 87), Martial (Rashford 64); Lukaku. Subs not used: Romero, Mata, Darmian, McTominay.

Bookings: Doucoure for a foul on Pogba (24); Rojo for a foul on Gray (38).

Referee: Jon Moss.