Magnificent Watford produced one of their greatest Premier League performances to crush shambolic Manchester United 4-1 on a memorable afternoon at Vicarage Road.

Joshua King, Ismaila Sarr, Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis scored the goals that secured a fourth victory of the season for the Hornets, who were able to attack seemingly at will at times against United’s disorganised and dysfunctional star-studded mess.

All in yellow contributed superbly, with Tom Cleverley a bustling dynamo in a midfield unit who were all on top of their games as they pressed, hassled and harried throughout, while Dennis and King tormented United with fine individual performances.

Watford could easily have been 4-0 up at half-time but the excellence of their display threatened to be undone when substitute Donny Van de Beek halved the home side's advantage within five minutes of the restart.

The Hornets had to dig in at times but Harry Maguire's sending off for a second yellow dealt the Reds another blow and their opponents impressively capitalised on their numerical superiority in the closing stages.

The Hornets went at United from the off and thought they had taken an early lead when Kiko Femenia converted the rebound after David de Gea had saved an Ismaila Sarr penalty.

However, the penalty had to be retaken for encroachment and Sarr was once again unable to take his opportunity from 12 yards as De Gea saved for the second time.

If anything though, that disappointment spurred the Hornets on and they increasingly began to create chances against a United side who always looked vulnerable as their two holding midfielders offered next to no protection for a shaky back four.

The opener deservedly arrived when excellent work by Dennis, who worked tirelessly in the central striker’s role, set up King to beat De Gea from close range.

The penalty misses aside, the Hornets had other good chances to be further ahead before Sarr did lash home the second shortly before the interval after being given the freedom of the United penalty area.

Substitute Van de Beek halved the deficit within five minutes of entering the fray at half-time and the visitors were to have other opportunities to equalise as well either side of being reduced to ten men after Maguire was sent off.

Watford held firm though, before finishing the match in real style – substitute Joao Pedro and Dennis scoring goals three in four in injury time for the visitors as the afternoon finished in wild scenes of celebration for the majority inside the ground.

Watford Observer:

Claudio Ranieri was always going to have to make one change from the side that lost 1-0 at Arsenal before the international break due to Juraj Kucka’s suspension, but the starting XI showed three alterations from two weeks ago.

Adam Masina replaced Danny Rose at left-back, while Cleverley and Imran Louza came into midfield, with Ozan Tufan dropping to the bench.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also made three changes from the team that was outclassed in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City last time out.

In came Nemanja Matic, former Hornets youngster Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, Eric Bailly and Fred dropped to the bench while Mason Greenwood was ruled out with Covid.

Watford started with Dennis playing as the focal point of the attack, with King on the left, and it was the hosts who sought to make the early running in a relatively sedate start to proceedings.

But that all changed in the sixth minute when Bruno Fernandes tried to play the ball across the face of his own area and skied it horribly, King latched on it and was taken down from behind by Scott McTominay in the area. Although Dennis then fired wide of the target, referee Jon Moss rightly awarded the penalty after playing the advantage, giving the Hornets a golden opportunity to make an early breakthrough.

Sarr tried to place the spot-kick low to De Gea’s left, but the penalty was poor, and the Spaniard and the saved, only for Femenia to rifle the follow-up high into the net to seemingly give the home side the lead.

However, VAR David Coote correctly spotted that United players, as well as Femenia, had encroached into the 18-yard box before the penalty was taken, meaning a retake was awarded.

Watford Observer:

Again Sarr took it, this time he hit it with more power, but again De Gea read it and dived to his left to save again, giving his side a huge let off as the game remaining goalless.

However, this lit the touch paper for a frenetic spell, with both sides looking to attack and Watford looking confident of unlocking a shaky-looking United rearguard.

McTominay received the game’s first yellow card in the 18th minute for a late lunge on Dennis and three minutes later the Hornets were almost in on the counter.

Moussa Sissoko won the ball midfield, playing the ball to his left where King played a lovely slide-rule cross-field pass to release Sarr in space, but instead of backing himself and pulling the trigger the Senegal winger tried to find Dennis in the middle of the area and the ball was blocked.

Sarr was almost in again when a mistake by Matic allowed him a run at the heart of the defence, but this time he miskicked when he tried to shoot. But Watford didn’t have long to wait until the deserved breakthrough was made.

Femenia started the business end of the move with a deep searching cross-field pass which Aaron Wan-Bissaka headed up in the air, Dennis brought the ball down and toyed with the United right-back before cleverly pulling the ball back in the area for King to calmly convert past De Gea from inside the six-yard box to make it 1-0.

It was a measure of Watford’s display that Ben Foster hadn’t really been extended in the opening 30 minutes, but he excelled to keep his side in front soon after they had taken the lead, plunging to his right to keep out a Rashford half-volley from the edge of the area after he had been picked out by a pass from the left.

United kept play alive though, and Foster was called upon to make another smart stop to keep out a low cross from Rashford.

Watford were soon asking questions of the United defence again when a fine pass from Louza, who had started very well, almost got King in but he was thwarted by a sliding challenge from Victor Lindelof.

However, Watford really should have doubled their lead in the 41st minute when Dennis held up play before laying the ball back to Masina, he swung in a cross from the left that picked out the head of the unmarked King, his effort was punched clear by De Gea, the follow up dropped invitingly for Sissoko, but he lashed wide.

The worry approaching half-time was that Watford hadn’t taken more than one of their opportunities but in the last minute of the half they did exactly that, capitalising on more diabolical defending by their opponents.

Watford Observer:

This time the hosts built steadily down the right before Femenia pulled the ball back to Sarr who had all the time in the world to pick his spot before lashing a cross-shot beyond De Gea to spark fantastic scenes in the Rookery.

Louza did blot his copybook by picking up a booking for pulling back Fernandes but the home side left the pitch at the interval two goals to the good and to a standing ovation.

Solksjaer made a doubled changes at the interval, bringing on Van de Beek and Anthony Martial for McTominay and Rashford, and within five minutes of the restart it had paid off.

Sancho was afforded too much space on the right, he sent over a good crowd which Cristiano Ronaldo headed back across goal for the diving Van de Beek to head home from inside the six-yard box to make it 2-1.

Watford Observer:

There was a worrying moment a few minutes later when Masina pushed over Ronaldo in the area but a linesman’s flag allowed the Hornets to breathe a sigh of relief.

However, the visitors got more joy in the first ten minutes of the second half than they had in the opening 45 minutes and created another opportunity when Sancho scampered away down the right before pulling a cross back for Fernandes to hit a first-time effort back across goal and wide.

United went even closer when Van de Beek’s incisive pass beyond Masina put Ronaldo in on goal but Foster stood up to the Portuguese well and diverted his shot over the bar.

Vicarage Road stood as one in the 60th minute to honour the memory of fan Kevin Norman, who died in Venice this week while following England to San Marino.

Harry Maguire was booked for hauling down Sarr on the edge of the area before Watford were forced into change in the 63rd minute when William Troost-Ekong replaced Nicolas Nkoulou.

The Hornets suffered another injury blow soon after when Sarr was unable to continue after being caught by Van der Beek and had to replaced by Cucho Hernandez.

It was a concerning period for Watford but the tables were very quickly turned when Maguire hauled down Cleverley around 25 yards out and Moss had no hesitation in reaching for his pocket, showing a second yellow card very quickly followed by a red.

Watford Observer:

Matic dropped into the back four for the ten-man Reds but despite their numerical disadvantage they kept seeking the equaliser, with Ronaldo flashing a header over from a Sancho cross.

Ronaldo did have the ball in the net a minute or so later, but was clearly offside following Van der Beek’s pass. In between times Louza’s positive afternoon had ended when he was replaced by Pedro.

United had another chance when Ronaldo toyed with Craig Cathcart on the left side of the area before finding Fernandes in space on the central edge of the 18-yard box, but the midfielder was unable to keep his shot down.

Diego Dalot replaced Luke Shaw with six minutes of normal time remaining after the England full-back had taken a Femenia cross flush in the face to concede a corner; Cleverley’s set-piece delivery from the right picking out Pedro unmarked at the near post but the Brazilian was unable to find the target with his header.

Solskjaer’s last desperate throw of the dice came as the game ticked into five minutes of injury time as Jesse Lingard replaced Sancho amid confirmation that Shaw had been a concussion substitute.

Watford were increasingly streaming forward at will though, and after De Gea had kept out one attempted finish from Pedro, some superb play from Femenia kept play moving and Dennis slipped in Pedro who fired in a low shot which beat De Gea at his near post to make it 3-1.

Watford Observer:

The Hornets still weren’t finished though, and following a long punt forward from Foster, Hernandez tried to bring the ball down, was unable to control it but Dennis was onto it in a flash to fire beyond De Gea to make it 4-1 to send thousands of Hornets fans home celebrating long into the night.

Watford Observer:

Watford: Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Nkoulou (Troost-Ekong 63), Masina; Louza (Pedro 76); Sarr (Hernandez 68), Cleverley, Sissoko, King; Dennis. Subs not used: Bachmann, Ngakia, Rose, Gosling, Fletcher, Tufan.

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw (Dalot 84); McTominay (Van der Beek 46), Matic; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford (Martial 46); Ronaldo. Subs not used: Heaton, Bailly, Mata, Lingard, Fred, Telles.

Bookings: McTominay for a foul on Dennis (18); Louza for pulling back Fernandes (45); Maguire for a foul on Sarr (61); Maguire for a foul on Cleverley – sent off (69); Dennis for removing shirt (90).

Referee: Jonathan Moss.