Jose pleased by spirited show

Top: Chris Smalling volleying in United's second goal in the Premier League game against the previously unbeaten Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Above: Goalkeeper David de Gea saving Christian Kabasele's (not in picture) header in stoppage time
Chris Smalling volleying in United's second goal in the Premier League game against the previously unbeaten Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Top: Chris Smalling volleying in United's second goal in the Premier League game against the previously unbeaten Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Above: Goalkeeper David de Gea saving Christian Kabasele's (not in picture) header in stoppage time
Goalkeeper David de Gea saving Christian Kabasele's (not in picture) header in stoppage time to help United earn full points.PHOTO: REUTERS

Manager lauds Lukaku and Fellaini as United hold off late Watford fightback for 2-1 win

LONDON • Jose Mourinho hailed the spirit of his Manchester United team after they withstood an intense late push from early English Premier League pacesetters Watford to win 2-1 on Saturday and relieve the pressure on his shoulders.

The 55-year-old Portuguese, however, also acknowledged it was a fragile victory given how his team followed a dominant first half with a more passive second which required a match-winning save from goalkeeper David de Gea deep into stoppage time to keep hold of the points.

In keeping with their high-fashion kit, this result was coloured with a blush of pink relief.

"Very happy with the points. Very happy with the spirit. Very happy with something that represents the spirit of the team - (striker) Romelu Lukaku's sliding tackle after 50 metres running back to help the team," noted Mourinho.

His comments emphasised how much graft was required to get this particular result over the line.

He added: "I am a bit frustrated because we had everything in the first half to win the game.

"Then we stopped being aggressive with and without the ball, gave them a chance to be reborn and give us a difficult match."

DROPPING THE BALL

Then we stopped being aggressive with and without the ball, gave them a chance to be reborn and give us a difficult match.

JOSE MOURINHO, Manchester United boss, who lamented his team taking the foot off the pedal after gaining a 2-0 lead.

United have endured a miserable start to the season, losing two of their first four matches and slipping well off the pace set by Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford.

But two goals in three first-half minutes from Lukaku and Chris Smalling gave them valuable breathing space at half-time and ultimately paved the way to victory.

Rocked by United's strong finish to the first half, Watford pulled a goal back halfway into the second through Andre Gray but failed to find an equaliser.

Mourinho also singled out battling Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini for praise.

The Portuguese manager said he had picked Fellaini to beef up the defence for the past couple of games after costly defensive errors against Brighton and Tottenham.

"I felt that my central defenders, they need especially in this moment of a bit of instability, they need somebody to support them, to give them the first wall, physicality. But Marouane is giving us more than that - he's giving us that but he's also giving us quality and simplicity," he said.

Mourinho opted for power rather than guile at Vicarage Road with a physically imposing midfield trio of Paul Pogba, Fellaini and Nemanja Matic, who was later sent off for a second yellow card.

In fairness to Watford, their endeavour and approach in trying to play positive football did not let up even if the barrier was a difficult one to overcome.

They were rewarded with a foothold back into the game through Gray's goal, which infused the team with renewed belief and United suddenly looked shaky as Watford poured forward in search of an equaliser. But it was not to be for the Hornets.

Javi Gracia, whose Watford side came into the match on the back of four straight wins, said his team had been outplayed in the first half but had responded well after the half-time team talk.

"I think in the second half we made a step forward and we were able to get out and try to create more chances, and we competed better," he said.

"The most important was we made a very big effort.

"If we have to lose, we have to lose this way - fighting until the end, showing our spirit and character. I think the players did that."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2018, with the headline 'Jose pleased by spirited show'. Print Edition | Subscribe