Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accused his Manchester United players of treating the first half of their 2-0 defeat at Watford “like a testimonial”, but refused to blame the loss on goalkeeper David De Ge for his second-half howler.
United conceded twice inside four minutes as first De Gea let Ismaila Sarr’s tame volley slip through his hands after taking his eyes off the ball, before Aaron Wan-Bissaka conceded a penalty for a foul on the striker that teammate Troy Deeney thumped home from the spot.
The defeat leaves United in eighth place at Christmas and seven points off the top four should Chelsea beat Tottenham, and Solskjaer put the loss down to their drab display in the opening 45 minutes, which saw neither team have a shot on target.
"We started the game slow, first half was very, very poor,” said Solskjaer, whose side have not won a league game this season when they haven’t scored inside the opening 30 minutes. “When you concede two goals like we did in quick succession, we gave ourselves too much to do.
"We have been doing well but you have to earn every single point. It was too slow, it was like a testimonial first half.”
Despite his displeasure with the performance, the Norwegian refused to single out De Gea for his obvious error, which comes just a week after he was also deemed at fault for Victor Lindelof’s own-goal in the 1-1 draw with Everton.
"The first goal was a mistake and that happens in football,” defended Solskjaer. “David has been very good lately and that is just one of those things that happen.
"Today we didn't deserve it. We could have had one or two goals ourselves but it is about taking your chances when you get them. I could talk about it all day long.
"We just have to face the fact that we have two games against Newcastle and Burnley coming up where we just have to improve."
United did see their strongest chance the grab the game by the scruff of the neck in the first half missed by Jesse Lingard, whose attempted chip over the head of Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster cleared the crossbar when a more simple option would have been advised.
"I don't think the chip was the right option, but then I wasn't on the pitch, it was Jesse,” added Solskjaer. "It was a good run and we could have been 1-0 up at half-time. Sometimes you miss the target, sometimes you score.
"It (the result) is very frustrating but we can do nothing about it now, we have to react. We have to pick ourselves up, don't feel sorry for ourselves and we need a reaction."
The loss is all the more frustrating for United given that it comes after earlier wins this month over Tottenham and Manchester City, and defender Harry Maguire was at a loss to explain why they struggle so much against teams below them in the table, having also failed to beat Newcastle, West Ham, Crystal Palace and 10-man Southampton this season.
"It's something we can't put our finger on," Maguire said. "We are working hard in training. We come into these games prepared, as well as we do for the likes of Manchester City.
"It's disappointing, I always think when you play against these so-called lower opposition in the table that the first goal is crucial. We had chances to get it.
"He (Lingard) knows he has to score, it's a big point in the game at 0-0. The first goal is crucial, I missed a glorious chance away at Newcastle to put us 1-0 up and we ended up losing. He missed it, we moved on and we still have to go on and win the game and we didn't. We weren't good enough and we have to improve."
The victory for Watford was not only their first under new manager Nigel Pearson, but also the first at Vicarage Road this season in what has been a nightmare first half of the campaign. The former Leicester boss was brought in earlier this month to try and address their form particularly at home in the hope of retaining their Premier League status, and club captain Deeney believes the result is a sign of Pearson’s immediate impact.
"He's been instrumental in getting everyone to work hard and enjoy what we're doing again,” Deeney said. “You could see how we celebrated that last free-kick and you had people throwing their bodies on the line."
The three points only brought Watford level with 19th-placed Norwich and still six adrift of safety.
And Deeney said: "We don't take anything for granted. We've won one game, it doesn't mean we're going to go and win six in a row. We're still bottom of the league, we've got to keep working."
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