Watford's bright young manager, Adrian Boothroyd, has insisted his side are in the Premiership "to make an impact, not a little splash" but although Manchester United felt the full force of their uncompromisingly direct play, the new kids on the block were too loose at the back and not sharp enough in attack to halt their visitors' impressive start to the season.
Goals by Mikaël Silvestre and Ryan Giggs on either side of an equaliser by Damien Francis maintained United's 100 per cent record in a game they should have won more comfortably. Sitting on top of the Premiership for the first time in 32 months, they may appear to be missing neither the departed Ruud van Nistelrooy nor the suspended Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, but must be well aware that there are much tougher challenges to come than those provided so far by Fulham, Charlton or Watford. Tottenham and Arsenal are next up after the international break as United attempt to continue their capital punishment.
Rio Ferdinand will probably miss those games as well as England's next two matches, at least, after apparently breaking his toe. He joins a long list of injured United defenders, though the back-four were solid enough yesterday with the embarrassing exception of the goal conceded to an unmarked Francis.
Giggs has been in vintage form thus far and was equally effective here in two different positions. Cristiano Ronaldo has shown more character than many would have credited him with in ignoring chauvinistic booing, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's return to full fitness has added to Sir Alex Ferguson's options, although he was quiet here.
Michael Carrick, also starting for the first time and substituted before the end, formed a new partnership in central midfield with Darren Fletcher that would have been tested more thoroughly were Watford not so inclined to bypass that area.
"Watford make it a real battle," Ferguson said. "They're a handful, a really committed side, who never give you a minute. The touches-on create all sorts of mayhem behind you. We picked the right side but I was still looking for a better performance."
Anyone who visited Vicarage Road during Graham Taylor's days of taking the club from the old Fourth Division to Wembley and Europe would have recognised the style of play under Boothroyd. The ball certainly went straight forward from back to front, not least at kick-off, when it was hoofed into touch as far upfield as possible - an old Taylor trick.
Boothroyd, however, was disappointed. "We didn't impose ourselves on the opposition today," he said. "We had chances without playing very well at all. But that's heartening in a way because there's so much more to come. We need to decide whether we're going to be a force in this League or lie down."
It was something of an oddity that his team should be level at half-time, though Boothroyd could claim some of the credit for a typically bold substitution with only half an hour played, pulling off the ineffective midfielder Hameur Bouazza for Matthew Spring. Lloyd Doyley looked a weak link at right-back and needed more support than he received from those in front of him as United took the lead after 12 minutes. Giggs, having moved inside, fed Louis Saha on his left and Silvestre, overlapping, was able to send a low drive into the far corner of the net.
Four minutes after the substitution, Watford had an equaliser. Ashley Young, proving troublesome down the right, made room for a low cross and Francis was criminally allowed to steal forward unmarked into the six-yard box and tap in. Ferguson must have been furious, though his tactical adjustment at the interval was in attack, and worked every bit as well as his opposite number's had.
Solskjaer moved out wide, before later being replaced by Park Ji-Sung, and Giggs pushed inside, from where he was able to restore a deserved lead six minutes into the second half. Spring, under pressure from Carrick, played a stumbling back-pass towards the unfortunate Watford goalkeeper, Richard Lee, who then found Danny Shittu colliding with him as Giggs eluded the pair of them to score his first goal of the season.
Frustratingly for the supportive home crowd, the lanky Darius Henderson had just missed from two yards, stabbing a cleverly worked free-kick from Marlon King right across the goal. Ferguson was still concerned enough to spend the last few minutes in his technical area, frequently berating his players. He would have been able to relax a little had Saha, played through by Giggs, not allowed Lee to save at his feet. Instead Wes Brown had to win an important header from one of Watford's long throws in the final minute before the points were assured.