Watford fans should be able to enjoy Christmas a little more after the Hornets gave their survival prospects a sizeable boost with a memorable 2-0 victory over Manchester United to finally pick up their first Premier League win of the season at Vicarage Road.

Nigel Pearson’s men are by no means out of the woods yet, but the manner of the performance and victory provides a great base to push on from as the club set continue to try to preserve their top-flight status.

After a solid first-half display in which the Hornets’ organisation and discipline had again been good, although Jesse Lingard had gone closest when he lobbed a clear opening onto the roof of the net, the outcome was decided on a three-minute spell early in the second period.

The all-important first goal had a stroke of good fortune about it, David de Gea making a dreadful mistake to let an Ismaila Sarr shot squirm through his fingers and inside the post.

United barely had time to clear their heads before Aaron Wan-Bissaka brought down Sarr in the penalty area and following the now compulsory VAR check, Troy Deeney confidently fired past de Gea to double the Hornets’ advantage.

United tried to respond but thanks to a resolute display by those in front of him, exemplified by an all-action performance in the engine room by Will Hughes, Ben Foster was only really extended on a couple of occasions as Watford were superbly cheered on by their supporters to a first home league win since April.

Pearson rewarded those who performed well in defeat at Anfield by naming an unchanged starting XI.

There was also some positive injury news with Adam Masina and Roberto Pereya returning to be named among the substitutes.

Having made changes for the 3-0 Carabao Cup victory over Colchester United in midweek, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named the same XI that came from behind to draw 1-1 at Everton last weekend.

Arguably the biggest talking point was on the United bench with the inclusion of Paul Pogba, who had surprisingly travelled having seemingly been ruled out by Solskjaer during his pre-match press conference on Friday.

The visitors only arrived at the ground an hour before kick-off and it was their hosts who made the brighter start, moving the ball around positively and with progressive intent.

United had the first sight of an opening in the fourth minute though, when Anthony Martial tried to slide Lingard away in the penalty area but Kiko Femenia anticipated the danger and got across to clear.

Martial was again heavily involved two minutes later when his deft flick sent Daniel James away on the right and the Welshman pulled the ball back to the striker, who dragged a first-time right-footed shot a couple of yards wide of Foster’s far post.

The Hornets responded by winning the first corner of the game but a change of set-piece taker did not lead to a change in fortunes, Hughes’ kick failing to beat the first defender at the near post.

The home side continued to try and be positive and in the 18th minute they did have the ball in the net from a corner, but the whistle had already blown by the time Abdoulaye Doucoure fired home after referee Lee Mason ruled Craig Cathcart had fouled de Gea.

It was no surprise United often had spells of prolonged possession, forcing their opponents to drop back into their shape and be disciplined. But when the visitors were wasteful, it also afforded their opponents the chance to counter. One such instance came midway through the first half when Marcus Rashford gave the ball away and Gerard Deulofeu led the charge, playing the ball inside at the second attempt for Deeney, but his first effort was blocked and then the skipper and Sarr got in each other’s way.

The early promise had given way to something of a dour chess match, but that should have changed in the 34th minute when Lingard spurned a great opportunity to make the breakthrough.

The Hornets back line was exposed when a loose pass from Christian Kabasele gave Martial the opportunity to slice open the defence and send the England man racing clear. With Foster committed, Lingard went for the chip but put it on the roof of the net.

Both sides received a booking in quick succession soon after – Etienne Capoue for a foul on Fred and Luke Shaw after pulling back Sarr – but the free-kick for the second offence prompted a promising spell for the Hornets in and around the opposition 18-yard box, which ended with Doucoure glancing a header wide from a Femenia cross.

Watford had ended the first-half positively – within 10 minutes of the start of the second they were firmly in the driving seat.

It can be argued the Hornets have been due a bit of luck and after a fairly low key start to the second period they were handed a big break in the 50th minute.

It originated from a Hughes free-kick from the right which he clipped towards the area, Kabasele kept the ball alive with a header and the ball sat up invitingly for Sarr on the right side of the area. He connected with a right-footed half-volley, sending the ball bouncing into the ground, but it should have been routine for de Gea, only for the Spaniard to let the ball squirm horribly through his grasp to gift the Hornets a precious lead.

Within three minutes, it had got even better for the hosts.

Sarr was again the catalyst, latching on to a through pass in the area, only to have his legs taken away by Wan-Bissaka and Mason had no doubt, immediately pointing to the spot.

Deeney took his time to compose himself as the VAR check was made, having a drink by the goalpost, but once he was given the go-ahead to take the spot-kick he fired confidently down the middle to make it 2-0.

There had to be a reaction and the first hint of one came in the 58th minute when Scott McTominay let fly from the edge of the area, Foster parried the ball back to the Scot who screwed his second attempt wide.

Solskjaer immediately sent on Mason Greenwood for James, but the Hornets were hungry and continued to look threatening on the counter.

Pogba made his return as a 64th-minute replacement for James, but the Hornets still remained largely comfortable as Pearson decided to change things five minutes later by bringing on Nathaniel Chalobah for Doucuoure.

Foster was forced to parry away a driven Rashford free-kick at his near post before Solskjaer completed his changes, with Juan Mata replacing McTominay.

Pogba warmed Foster’s gloves with a drive from 30 yards before Pereyra replaced Capoue, but United were still struggling to build up any attacking momentum.

They did have an opportunity in the 81st minute when a deep Mata corner picked out Harry Maguire at the back post, but he headed straight into the grateful arms of Foster.

United went close again soon after when Pogba exchanged passes with Martial before driving in a ball from the left, which Foster parried and Cathcart managed to scramble away.

The game was getting increasingly stretched, with the visitors going close again when Greenwood was played in on the edge of the area only to lift the ball onto the roof of the net.

Isaac Success replaced Sarr for the closing stages but it was a tribute to the Hornets’ defensive work that Foster was not really extended again until the last minute of normal time when he reacted with an outstretched right leg to thwart Rashford after he had been picked out by a Martial ball over the defence.

There was to be one more nervous moment in stoppage time when United were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area, but Mata was only able to curl wide as Vicarage Road erupted in jubilant scenes at the final whistle.

Watford: Foster; Mariappa, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenia; Hughes, Capoue (Pereyra 77); Sarr (Success 87), Doucoure (Chalobah 69), Deulofeu; Deeney. Subs not used: Gomes, Dawson, Masina, Gray.

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay (Mata 72), Fred; James (Greenwood 58), Lingard (Pogba 64), Rashford; Martial. Subs not used: Romero, Pereira, Young, Matic.

Referee: Lee Mason.