Watford 1 Manchester United 2: Giggs' survival instincts inspire United

Click to follow
The Independent Football

As the pressure began to tell on Manchester United at the very end, so too did Sir Alex Ferguson's patience start to fray and, having already reduced the fourth official to a gibbering apologist for the four minutes added on, he fixed his anger on his team. Most United players applied the general safety rule of edging away from the touchline and avoiding eye contact. Except one.

Perhaps after 15 years the Ferguson rage does not have the same effect on Ryan Giggs - and when he plays like he did against Watford on Saturday the 32-year-old has no reason to fear for his place in the team. So he returned Ferguson's criticisms with some choice comments of his own and, when the United manager had composed himself and reflected, he may well have considered that whatever might have annoyed him was not Giggs' fault.

For those who marvel at the endurance of a footballer who is in his 16th season at the top, the defeat of Watford was a vintage Giggs' performance. The Premiership newcomers have, under Aidy Boothroyd, the muscle and the organisation to put up a good fight, but they do not have the composure that eight titles in this division brings - no one but Giggs has that. He is 33 in November and as strong as ever.

Captain in Gary Neville's absence, he scored the winning goal and switched from midfield to attack. For some Giggs will always be remembered as the brilliant boy winger from the early Nineties. For others it is his capacity to reinvent himself that is most remarkable - the hair is thinning a little and there is a new boy wonder on United's wing, but Giggs has endured longer than any player in the Ferguson regime.

He picked off Watford just as it seemed the home side might have upset United's rhythm, seizing upon a mistake by Matt Spring and finishing neatly. He passed as well as any of his side's midfielders and, when called upon, he can still run with the ball as effectively as ever, nursing it along with those little prods of the outside of his left foot. Nine points from their first three games do not flatter United or the veteran making his 600th start for the club.

"We made a great start to last season as well so we're not getting carried away," Giggs said. "Arsenal and Chelsea have set the standard over the past three years with the starts they've made and now we're doing it. We've got some tough games coming up after the internationals but the difference is that we've got a bigger and better squad to cope with them."

None of the usual consolation about coming close to a draw, or the honour of welcoming United to humble Vicarage Road, seemed to work with Boothroyd, who gloriously refused to pay the visitors any more than the minimum lip service. "He [Ferguson] is absolutely superb as a manager and a guy," the Watford manager grumbled, "but I'm not going to get excited and wet my pants every time he comes in the room."

His 22-year-old winger Ashley Young was the pick of Watford's side, leaving Mikaël Silvestre rocking on his heels as he crept around the back of United's defence to cross for Damien Francis to score an equaliser against the run of play on 34 minutes. Silvestre had scored the first on 13 minutes when Giggs found Louis Saha and he passed for the overlapping Frenchman to score.

Despite Marlon King's presence in the attack, and the slight injury that Rio Ferdinand sustained, this was not a Watford team who tried to bully United. Watford's greatest crime was to miss their half-chances, especially when Darius Henderson flicked the ball back across goal on 54 minutes.

Giggs scored the winner on 52 minutes and he is one Premiership title away from having won more English top-flight championships than any other player. On days like these he seems capable of carrying on for ever. And at the club where Ferguson is the undisputed king, he certainly has remarkable powers of survival.

Goals: Silvestre (12) 0-1; Francis (34) 1-1; Giggs (52) 1-2.

Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Doyley, DeMerit, Shittu, Powell; Young, Francis, Mahon (Bangura, 75), Bouazza (Spring, 31); King, Henderson (Stewart, 65). Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Mackay.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Brown, Silvestre, Ferdinand, O'Shea; Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick (Richardson, 75), Giggs; Saha, Solskjaer (Park, 59). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Evra, Rossi.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Watford Mahon; Manchester United Richardson.

Man of the match: Giggs.

Attendance: 19,453.