Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrated his first match as full-time Manchester United manager with a 2-1 win over Watford though he was happier to have avoided slipping up on what he termed a potential ‘banana skin’.
The 46-year-old Norwegian — who was named permanent manager on Thursday after reviving the team following the sacking of Jose Mourinho — professed himself happier with the result than the performance.
Victory lifted United into fourth place and potentially a place in next season’s Champions League, though, Arsenal can go back ahead of them if they beat Newcastle on Monday.
“I’m happy with the result if not the performance,” said Solskjaer.
“It was one of those first games back after the international break that you know could be a potential banana skin.
“It didn’t really feel any different for me because the focus is always the next game but we as a team felt it was a new start after the disappointment of Wolves (they lost in the FA Cup quarter-finals), it was almost like the first game of the league.”
Solskjaer, who has also guided United into the Champions League quarter-finals, believes his side have built up the momentum to finish in the top four.
They, third-placed Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea are effectively battling it out for the remaining two Champions League spots — the top two Manchester City and Liverpool look to be too far ahead to be caught.
“We came away with a win, which is great but I think everyone knows we can perform better,” sad Solskjaer.
“There are four very good teams challenging for two places but we almost feel like we are in the driving seat.
“We have given ourselves a good chance.”
‘Presence of mind’
Solskjaer had been greeted with a huge banner from the Stretford End as he emerged from the tunnel, but he was soon sitting uncomfortably as Watford took control with David De Gea by far the busier goalkeeper.
But United took the lead with one of those counter-attacks the club has become famous for down the years as Luke Shaw stopped a Watford move and sped forward from left-back.
He then had the presence of mind to play a perfect through ball behind the defence for Marcus Rashford to run onto and finish coolly past the advancing Ben Foster.
It was a ninth goal for Rashford since Solskjaer took over and further evidence he has become United’s main man up front in the last three months with Romelu Lukaku only on the bench.
Foster made a brilliant instinctive save to deny Anthony Martial a second before the home side were again forced backwards at the start of the second half with De Gea saving well from Roberto Pereyra in a period of sustained pressure.
Solskjaer responded by making a double change and his two substitutes, Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard, combined to set up Martial, who scored at the second attempt from close range, as the defenders appealed for offside.
Watford finally found the net in the 90th minute as a reward for their enterprising play after a sharp one-two and some excellent footwork from Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Their manager Javi Gracia was frustrated with the result but happy with how his players performed at the start of an important week, as they gear up for their FA Cup semi-final with Wolves at Wembley next Sunday.
“It is difficult to explain because I think we had a good performance,” said the Spaniard.
“It wasn’t enough to get points but I am happy with the performance.”