No English beacon from the World Cup or young Welshman with immense potential and a price-tag to match rode into Old Trafford ahead of the transfer deadline yet Manchester United were otherwise uncomplicated and ruthless in business last night, drawing the priority of the Premiership crown one step closer and captivated by confirmation that Wayne Rooney will have a major say in closing the deal.
Sir Alex Ferguson may soon forget the frustration of attempting to improve his squad with Owen Hargreaves and Gareth Bale this month if Rooney, instrumental in all four goals as United eventually stamped style and superiority on basement club Watford, maintains the form and exuberance that has coursed through his veins since breaking his barren spell at the Emirates Stadium 10 days ago.
There was another delicate chip into the Stretford End goal last night for the England striker, another mesmerising display from Cristiano Ronaldo, but it was the ease with which United restored confidence and winning ways following the late collapse at Arsenal in their last League outing that strengthened Ferguson's conviction in the championship credentials of his existing squad. Prior to the arrival of Aidy Boothroyd's spirited but limited team the United manager ordered 12 wins from the 14 remaining Premiership fixtures to claim a first title in four seasons - now they seek 11. The only downside is they will not all be as simple as this.
"It was very comfortable," the Scot admitted. "Watford set out their stall to defend but when they put two up front in the second half and became more positive, the game opened up. We made and missed a lot of chances, but you have to be satisfied with 4-0. Watford have had a hard season and there was no need for more than that. We are another goal better off than Chelsea. It has been a good night."
Ferguson rates Boothroyd as one of the brightest young managers in the game and insists his star will remain in the ascendancy even if, as appears ever likely, Watford's Premiership status has disappeared in the opposite direction at the end of this campaign. He is unlikely to alter that opinion following the glowing eulogy that Boothroyd paid on Ferguson's doorstep. "This team can be one of the best in the world because they have world-class players and I think they will go on and do it this year," he said. "And he [Ferguson] is a winner. And a bad loser."
As are Ferguson's charges, Rooney and Ronaldo in particular, and though the calibre of the opposition has to be considered before United can claim to have solved the problems that contributed to their demise at the Emirates the duo's invention, purpose and desire augurs well for the final hurdles that remain in this campaign.
The United manager maintained his policy of rotating only when the circumstances allow, granting Gabriel Heinze, John O'Shea and Kieran Richardson first starts of 2007 and resting Henrik Larsson on the bench for the first time since his loan move from Helsingborg, and though Watford's priority was clearly to contain the League leaders their task proved a thankless one once United's talents found their rhythm and the visitors had contributed to their own demise.
Openings had been scarce until Jay DeMerit inexplicably pulled Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to the floor inside the penalty area in the 19th minute and gave the referee Mike Dean little option than to point to the spot. Ronaldo, presented with the Fipro Young Player of 2006 Award before kick-off, stepped forward, paused, and made no mistake with the opportunity that presented itself from 12 yards.
Though Chris Powell almost equalised when his cross drifted dangerously towards goal and prompted Tomasz Kuszczak to push the ball against his own bar, United were dominant throughout, Rooney to the fore with flicks and vision that parted the visitors' rearguard almost at will. Unable to rely on their own finishing skills - Richardson and Solskjaer slicing wide and high respectively in the second half - United received another helping hand when Lloyd Doyley headed beyond his own goalkeeper on the hour.
Pressure off, top began to toy with the bottom club whilst massaging their goal difference in the process. Larsson was on the field only four minutes when he exchanged passes with Rooney and sent the Watford goalkeeper the wrong way with a delicate finish, his second goal for the club, with the best saved until last. Appropriately it was United's main protagonists at the heart of the move as Ronaldo glided through the yellow lines, flicked the ball over Watford's central defence with the outside of his boot, and watched as Rooney lifted his fourth goal in three games over Richard Lee. "We have got the bit between our teeth again," came the Glaswegian warning.
Goals: Ronaldo (20) 1-0; Doyley og (61) 2-0; Larsson (69) 4-0; Rooney (71) 4-0.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Heinze; Ronaldo, Carrick, O'Shea, Richardson; Solskjaer (Larsson, 66), Rooney. Substitutes not used: Van der Sar (gk), Brown, Park, Silvestre.
Watford (4-1-4-1): Lee; Mariappa, Doyley, DeMerit, Stewart; Bangura; Smith, Francis, Powell (Hoskins, 61), Bouazza; Henderson. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Kabba, McNamee, Williamson.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Watford DeMerit, Henderson; Manchester United Vidic.
Man of the match: Rooney.
Attendance: 76,032.Reuse content