United knew they were in a game in this third-round tie and they never had things all their own way. The fact they summoned Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford from the bench with 20 minutes to play on a freezing night suggested it was not as straightforward as Ole Gunnar Solskjær was expecting. There was a fair bit to be encouraged about from a Watford perspective, particularly in the way Hughes, in his first start since the final day of last season, patrolled the midfield with typical bite and how Ismaïla Sarr opened his speedy legs and was so direct before he was replaced with a hectic January in mind. João Pedro also looked bright in his first appearance for more than a month while Zinckernagel looked technically proficient and well balanced.
You just need to start well in games of this size, against this calibre of opposition, so it was a blow to concede after five minutes. It was not a spectacular goal either: McTominay nodding in from a corner. It was one that definitely fell into the avoidable category.
Often the concession of an early goal at places of this stature are a signal for the floodgates to open, but the response for the remainder of the half was really encouraging. The visitors took a little while to steady themselves after being rocked by the early goal, but they then had a right good go. With Sarr enjoying the vast open space down the right, Zinckernagel neat and tidy down the left and João Pedro dropping into some useful pockets, the Hornets mustered 11 shots at goal and forced two more corners than their exalted hosts in the first 45.