Black Cats heap misery on Red Devils
Sunderland 2 Man United 1
This was an atrocious, lifeless, shapeless display from Manchester United, who have now lost three games in a row for the first time since 2001. Where was the fight? Where was that old swagger? Where was the refusal to accept defeat?
This was embarrassing from United and David Moyes.
Sunderland's players were hungrier, better organised and, even on a cold evening, left the field with their shirts soaked in sweat. With Alex Ferguson watching on, Moyes looked powerless to influence the game.
It is only half-time in this League Cup semi-final but United's players will need to raise their game immeasurably in the second leg. It was an indictment of United's performance that they were painfully reliant on an 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj.
United's supporters sang in support of Moyes, and the Old Trafford board remains supportive of the new man, but he urgently needs to invigorate the players, and also draft some new talent in.
The 40-year-old Ryan Giggs conceded an own goal but United clawed their way back into it with an equaliser from Nemanja Vidic, whose agent earlier in the day had told Radio Crc in Napoli that his client is "a very good player and will have no trouble finding a new club. For the time being we are remaining calm. However, at the moment, I would rule out an extension with Manchester United."
Vidic was well-placed to deal with Adam Johnson's run into the box after 64 minutes but Tom Cleverley conceded a penalty with a stupid challenge, going in with his right foot when it was crying out for a tackle with the left. Cleverley tangled with Johnson, and Fabio Borini thundered the penalty in.
United fans kept singing but this was another dispiriting display. For Sunderland, their fans celebrated wildly at the final whistle, loving the gutsy defiance of their players.
Gus Poyet had selected an attacking line-up with Ki Sung-yeung and Sebastian Larsson supporting Steven Fletcher with Borini cutting in from the left and Emanuele Giaccherini working the right. It was an adventurous approach, continuing in the second half with the introduction of the superb Johnson, indicative of a desire to exploit any nerves in the visitors' ranks. Sunderland actually did not play particularly well in the first half but still turned around in front, courtesy of the Giggs own goal.
United were still missing Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie while Rio Ferdinand had also fallen lame with a knee injury and is expected to be out for two weeks. The away following were strong in their support for Moyes but were given only moments of hope from their team before the Vidic equaliser early in the second half.
United started slowly, Patrice Evra and Giggs making mistakes in possession. The only promise was supplied by Januzaj, who mixed up occasional runs down the left with shimmies through the middle. Fouled by Lee Cattermole, Januzaj took the free-kick that flew into the wall. Moments later, Giggs saw his shot deflect off Phil Bardsley on to the bar.
Bardsley was standing up well to United's intermittent threats.
From one Danny Welbeck run angled right, Januzaj made quick ground through the middle, taking the ball from the England striker. Januzaj went left, cutting into the box, looking to take on Cattermole. Suddenly, Januzaj tried to curl the ball in but Bardsley headed clear. Back came Januzaj again, firing a shot that hit Giggs in an offside position, and his follow-up was ruled out.
Up in the top tier containing the away fans, there was brief belief that the goal stood and a red flare came down, narrowly missing the Sunderland fans. The home supporters were enraged, gesticulating up at the top tier as police arrived and then a steward took the burning pyrotechnic and placed it in a box.
United can expect a call from the FA and the possibility of their allocation cut on their next visit.
United had brought a substantial following. But the sight of many empty seats elsewhere told a story as much of financial hardship endured by many in the area as feelings towards the Sunderland team. A third home game in six days had drained pockets; for those who travel to watch Sunderland, the five away games in December and January will have cost £192 in tickets (as well as 2,390 miles), compared to the £215 for the nine home fixtures. The team's spirits, if not their league position, have been lifted immeasurably by Poyet.
They weathered a flurry of United pressure, including a Vidic header wide, before taking a brief lead before half-time. After Jonny Evans fouled Steven Fletcher, Larsson lifted in a free-kick and the goal was a blur of United past and present. Wes Brown headed across and Giggs turned the ball in under pressure from Bardsley.
Moyes must have got into his players at half-time. They emerged early, hungry for the equaliser. Steven Fletcher headed a Giggs free-kick away for a corner. Cleverley took responsibility for the dead-ball situation, curling the ball in. Brown was too sluggish to deal with Vidic, who headed home. Another flare was lit in the away end.
Sunderland responded. David de Gea saved from Larsson. Poyet had sent on Adam Johnson, who was jeered for his City connections by the visiting fans but soon made United pay. Running in from the right, Johnson cut into the box and went down under a stupid challenge from Cleverley. The only surprise was that Andre Marriner took so long to point to the spot.
Borini took charge, thumping the ball high into the net. Rafael was cautioned for dissent and should then have been given a second yellow when fouling Borini. (© Daily Telegraph, London)