Watford were unable to capitalise on defeats for some of their fellow Premier League strugglers as they fell to a 3-0 loss at Manchester United.

The Hornets had chances to have gone in front against what was an average United display for the majority of the opening period, with Troy Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucoure having the best of them.

The visitors’ organisation and discipline had been good for the most part, but they started to cause problems for themselves towards the end of the first half and United made the breakthrough before the interval when Bruno Fernandes converted a penalty after Ben Foster had been adjudged to have brought down the Portuguese midfielder.

Watford were very much in the game though, and thought they’d equalised within 10 minutes of the restart when Deeney fired in from close range after Craig Dawson had turned a corner against the post, but VAR correctly adjudged the ball had struck the defender’s arm.

Soon after though, Fernandes turned provider for Anthony Martial to make it 2-0 and the impressive new United signing was to finish with another assist, setting up Mason Greenwood for the third as the hosts ran out comfortable victors.

Nigel Pearson made just the one change from the side that drew 1-1 at Brighton & Hove Albion prior to the Hornets’ winter break, with Craig Dawson coming back into the side at the expense of Adrian Mariappa at right-back.

The fit-again Ismaila Sarr and Tom Cleverley were both on the bench, but Kiko Femenia was not included in the match-day 18.

Having drawn 1-1 at Club Brugge in the Europa League on Thursday, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in essence reverted to the team that beat Chelsea in their last Premier League outing, making two changes from that side.

In came Victor Lindelof and Mason Greenwood in place of Eric Bailly and Mason Greenwood who dropped to a bench that included the returning Scott McTominay and former Hornets striker Odion Ighalo.

Watford sought to press their hosts high from the outset and it resulted in a clear chance as early as the fourth minute.

A dreadful mix-up between Harry Maguire and Nemanja Matic saw them leave the ball for each other in their own penalty area, but only succeed in letting it run for Deeney. Instead of chancing his arm immediately though, the Hornets skipper tried to take the ball around Lindelof and he was dispossessed.

David de Gea was the next to get away with a close call when he was closed down by Doucoure, but the keeper’s pass to Maguire saw the England defender then give the ball away to Etienne Capoue but again the Hornets were unable to capitalise.

Greenwood had the first attempt of the contest when he fired an angled effort at Foster in the tenth minute. However, that materialised after Fred was almost disposed by Deeney, which would have given the Hornets the chance to break, but the midfielder did well to keep the ball and then avoid losing it to Will Hughes.

Watford were almost in again when a Dawson header infield gave Roberto Pereyra the chance to advance, he fed Gerard Deulofeu on the left and the Spaniard tried to pick out Doucoure on the opposite side of the area. The Frenchman got to the ball, but his second touch was too heavy, taking it away from him and across the six-yard box where but he managed to retrieve the ball and tried to beat de Gea at the foot of his right-hand post. However, the keeper touched it behind, although referee Martin Atkinson failed to award a corner.

United had been distinctly average in the opening 15 minutes but they could have taken the lead soon after when Foster did get enough on his attempt to parry away a James cross from the left and the ball fell invitingly for Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right side of the 18-yard box, only for the full-back to lash his effort into the side netting.

Back came the Hornets with Pereyra curling an effort from the left side of the area across goal and wide after a deep delivery from Dawson, who was being given plenty of space to push forward on the right when the opportunities arose but was also finding the pacey James a handful.

Foster fielded a 20-yard effort from Luke Shaw after as United continued to have the majority of the possession, but without really threatening to unpick their opponents’ organised set-up.

That almost changed in the 28th minute when Fred showed some urgency from midfield, bursting forward to find Martial who cut inside on his right foot but fired over from the edge of the area.

But it was the Brazilian who was to be caught out by Deeney two minutes later, allowing Doucoure to pick up the ball and surge forward before hitting a left-footed piledriver, forcing De Gea to dive to his right to turn behind.

However, a couple of mistakes from the Hornets saw them living dangerously, as first James fired high and wide following a move that had stemmed from Capoue and Adam Masina getting in each other’s way, and then Fred also missed the target when he should have done better after James pulled the ball back for him.

The next time the young Welshman got on the ball through, the Hornets were made to pay as his slide rule pass set Fernandes away and he was felled by the already committed Foster. Atkinson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and the Portuguese midfielder calmly sent the Hornets keeper the wrong way to give the hosts a 41st-minute lead with his first United goal.

Number two should have followed before half-time when a mistake by Pereyra allowed Martial to run at the Hornets defence before slipping a pass to Fernandes on the right of the box, but he stabbed across the target and wide with only Foster to beat.

Most of the opening period had been played at a sedate pace and that remained the case in the opening stages after the restart until more hap-hazard United defending allowed Doucoure to square the ball across the six-yard box, forcing Shaw to put the ball behind to prevent Deeney from having a tap-in.

Hughes took the resulting corner and his in-swinging delivery saw Dawson turn the ball into de Gea’s near post, the ball spinning back into the six-yard box where Deeney stabbed it into the roof of the net.

However, the Hornets’ celebrations were to be shortlived as a VAR check showed the ball had clearly hit Dawson’s arm before striking the post.

Instead of being level, Watford were to find themselves two down with 58 minutes on the clock.

The increasingly influential Fernandes was found in space in midfield and he slid a pass through for Martial to run off and in behind Christian Kabasele. Foster did well to block the Frenchman’s first effort from the right side of the area, but he then didn’t retreat back to his line – and with his none of his teammates dropping back towards goal either – the striker cleverly dinked the ball past the keeper to make it 2-0.

Foster did well to block an angled Greenwood drive soon after as United threatened to put the game beyond any doubt, with Maguire the next to have an opportunity, but he put a free header badly wide from a Matic cross.

Sarr made his return to action as a 69th-minute replacement for Pereyra and the substitute’s first involvement was to force a corner, which United dealt with.

Any remaining doubt about the outcome was put to bed with 15 minutes of normal time remaining when the hosts scored their third.

Greenwood capitalised on some loose play from Hughes to break forward and away from a weak attempted challenge from Capoue before finding Fernandes on the right side of the area and the midfielder laid the ball back inside for the young striker to fire into the roof of the net.

Danny Welbeck was immediately introduced for Deeney before the Hornets came close to pulling one back when Hughes found Deulofeu on the left and he curled a shot off the top of the bar.

Multiple changes followed in the 79th minute, with McTominay, Tahith Chong and Ighalo replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial respectively, while Cleverley came on for Doucoure.

The Hornets didn’t need telling what Ighalo was capable of but they almost gift-wrapped his first United goal with six minutes remaining when a poor back-header from Masina left him one-on-one with Foster, but the former Watford striker was pushed wide and ultimately could only hit the outside of the post.

Fellow replacement Chong was the next to go close to adding a fourth, curling across goal and narrowly wide after being released by Fernandes.

The Hornets kept plugging away until the end, but the outcome was long since decided, leaving them still in the bottom three.

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Matic; Fernandes, Fred (McTominay 79); Greenwood (Chong 79), Martial (Ighalo 79), James. Subs not used: Romero, Bailly, Mata, Williams.

Watford: Foster; Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Capoue, Hughes; Pereyra (Sarr 69), Doucoure (Cleverley 79), Deulofeu; Deeney (Welbeck 76). Subs not used: Gomes, Mariappa, Chalobah, Gray.

Bookings: Cathcart for a foul on Martial (67).

Attendance: 73,347.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.