Ashley Young, having crossed for Romelu Lukaku’s opener three minutes earlier, sent a cross to the back post which found Marouane Fellaini, whose header down was met by a thumping volley from Smalling to put Manchester United in control.
Jose Mourinho erupted from his seat in celebration and hugged Kieran McKenna, which seemed to imply that the set-piece, executed perfectly, was the latter’s brainchild.
Speaking after the game, Carrick, who joined Mourinho’s staff in the summer, noted that the goal had been rehearsed in training.
“Yeah, it was a great goal from Chris,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been trying to do, really – score more goals from set plays and create more chances and try and come up with things to do that.”
“So it was nice to see one go in from him today. Normally it’s a header or a right foot, but it was a lovely volley on the left.”
The win at Vicarage Road was, above anything, a tactical victory for Mourinho. He would have watched Javi Garcia’s side beat Tottenham Hotspur from two set-pieces before the international break and planned a game plan which revolved around dominating aerially.
And while the game should have been out of sight by half time, the plan worked: Marouane Fellaini was immense once again, both goals came from crosses, and United managed to hold firm in the face of Watford’s late onslaught. That will give them confidence heading into a busy month which sees them play in three competitions.