Substitute Juan Camilo Zuniga made a decisive impact as Watford earned a 3-1 triumph against Manchester United at Vicarage Road.

The South American put the hosts 2-1 in front with seven minutes left with his first touch of the game and, in the closing seconds, earned a penalty after being felled by Marouane Fellaini – which was converted by Troy Deeney.

The Reds had battled back through Marcus Rashford’s leveller after falling behind to a controversial opener by Etienne Capoue in the first half but return north disappointed on a day when nothing seemed to go right.

Jose Mourinho made five changes to the side with Chris Smalling and Marcus Rashford selected for their first Premier League starts under the boss. Smalling managed to drift a header wide inside two minutes but the Hornets soon gained the upper hand. Deeney was close to reaching a Sebastian Prodl header across the six-yard box and, when miscommunication between David De Gea and Smalling granted Odion Ighalo the clearest of open goals, the striker, thankfully, screwed his finish wide of the gaping net.

Four minutes later, De Gea was back to his usual brilliant self, diving to push away Deeney’s header after the Hornets skipper beat Antonio Valencia to Daryl Janmaat’s cross. United responded with a neat move but Zlatan Ibrahimovic could only find the side-netting after he and Wayne Rooney were involved in the build-up to Rashford’s deflected centre.

On 31 minutes, Paul Pogba collected a square ball by Fellaini and launched an amazing strike that dipped over Heurelho Gomes and bounced off the top of the bar. It was a moment of magic and suggested the visitors could make the breakthrough but, instead, there was controversy moments afterwards.

Anthony Martial was attempting to launch a counter-attack when, with his back to goal deep inside his own half, he was flattened by Miguel Britos’ aggressive challenge. Janmaat picked things up and provided a pull-back for Capoue to find the net off De Gea for the midfielder’s fourth goal in his last five games.

Martial was unable to continue and Britos was very fortunate not to be penalised by referee Michael Oliver but there was no time to feel aggrieved with De Gea needing to keep out a Jose Holebas free-kick, generously awarded after a tangle between Capoue and Pogba. Rashford blasted over in the final stages of four minutes of injury time but there was much work to do in the second half.

Possession: United 42% Watford 58%
Shots: Watford 6 United 8
Shots on target: Watford 3 United 0
Corners: Watford 0 United 3

Although Ibrahimovic sent a shot well wide, Watford carried the greater threat for a spell after the break and pressed by forcing corners and free-kicks. It took an incisive move to get United back into the game as Ibrahimovic played a one-two with Rashford and chipped dangerously into the area. The ball came off Valon Behrami’s arm and fell to Rashford, who smacked a left-footed shot past Gomes to level the scores.

Ibrahimovic was close to securing the lead when meeting a Fellaini cross with a powerful header that forced a superb one-handed stop out of Gomes as Mourinho’s men tried in vain to edge in front. Instead, out of nothing, Roberto Peyreyra managed to find enough space to tee up Zuniga and the Colombian, who had only just entered the fray as a substitute, swept past De Gea.

Memphis came on for Shaw in another attacking move but there was no route back for the Reds as Watford ran down the clock convincingly and even won a late spot-kick as Zuniga tumbled under a Fellaini challenge inside the box. Deeney stepped up to smash home, as he did in the fixture last season, and it wrapped things up.

After three defeats in succession, a trip to Northampton Town in the League Cup awaits United in midweek, with the Reds desperate to get back on track.

Possession: Watford 40% United 60%
Shots: Watford 10 United 15
Shots on target: Watford 5 United 2
Corners: Watford 5 United 7
Watford: Gomes; Cathcart, Prodl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue (Zuniga 82), Holebas; Deeney, Ighalo (Success 90). Subs: Pantilimon, Kenedy, Watson, Amrabat, Guedioura.

Booked: Britos, Holebas, Deeney

United: De Gea; Valencia (Mata 61), Smalling, Bailly, Shaw (Memphis 85); Pogba, Fellaini; Rashford, Rooney, Martial (Young 38); Ibrahimovic. Subs: Romero, Blind, Carrick, Herrera.

Booked: Pogba, Fellaini, Memphis, Rooney

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