Video - Van Gaal upbeat as Man Utd's top four bid gathers pace

Mata scored Man Utd's late winner against Watford
Mata scored Man Utd's late winner against Watford

Juan Mata gave Manchester United's top-four hopes a timely shot in the arm, firing home a late free-kick as Watford's missed chances came back to haunt them.

Doom, gloom and speculation about Louis van Gaal's future was replaced by positivity last week, with wins against Shrewsbury, FC Midtjylland and Arsenal complemented by teenager Marcus Rashford's remarkable emergence.

It had looked like United would be brought down to earth with a bump against Quique Sanchez Flores' impressive Watford outfit, only for captain Mata's free-kick to secure United a 1-0 win.

The result moves Van Gaal's men level on points with fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand, on a night when things could have been so different had the visitors turned large patches of dominance into a goal.

"This was a big win on a night when all of our rivals were losing," declared a smiling Van Gaal, whose side have now won four games in succession.

"It was very tough and the weather conditions were not good for the game. I give a lot of compliments to my players.

"We made some tactical changes and it made a difference. The difference between all the clubs is so small and you can lose against anyone. I am not surprised to see others losing tonight.

"Now we are close to the third and fourth position in the table tonight. We are fighting for that."