Home » EPL, Latest, League Cup » League Cup SF 1st leg: Sunderland 2 Man United 1

This was a shapeless, lifeless 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?

Where was the manager standing on the edge of the dug-out, exuding urgency?

Only a teenager, Adnan Januzaj, stood up for the challenge. Otherwise, this was embarrassing from United and David Moyes.

Sunderland have few, if any, real stars but they left the field with shirts soaked with sweat.

They were hungrier and better organised, again raising their game against vaunted opponents, and eliciting a roar at the final whistle that almost evoked Roker Park. Gus Poyet has invigorated Sunderland, bringing strong performances from Phil Bardsley, Ki Sung-Yueng, Fabio Borini and the substitute Adam Johnson in particular.

Crucially, they played as if aware that United had lost their fear factor.

It is only half-time in this Capital One Cup semi-final but United’s players will need to raise their game considerably in the second leg if they are to reach Wembley. There will be plenty of schadenfreude across the land at United’s continued travails, and even some calls for Moyes to be replaced.

But Moyes rightly retains the backing of the board and, hugely vocally, the support of the 5,000-strong away following here.

By constantly singing Moyes’ name, the away fans seemed intent on transmitting a message that they believed in Sir Alex Ferguson’s chosen successor, that they would remain united and negotiate this dispiriting period together.

January has so far brought only three 2-1 reverses and some comments from Moyes that he is unlikely to spend heavily in this transfer window. If the much-needed major clear-out of certain players should wait for the summer, then Moyes still needs some heavyweight reinforcements now; recruiting A-listers will not be easy in the close season if United cannot offer Champions League football.

Moyes, who is badly missing Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, must also approach the transfer market with the mindset of a Manchester United manager with the funds to buy the best, not the attitude of a former Everton manager operating with a limited budget.

Even on Tuesday night, Moyes made some odd decisions: why Patrice Evra started ahead of Alex Buttner, why the pacey Wilfried Zaha did not come on, and why Tom Cleverley stayed on so long?

It must all have made awkward viewing for Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton, who shook his head sadly, and Bryan Robson. How United could do with a young version of Robson in central midfield, a warrior taking the game to the opposition. United have lost the aura of invincibility they acquired under Ferguson.

Poyet sensed it, selecting an attacking line-up with Ki 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 excellent Johnson, indicative of a desire to exploit any nerves in the visitors’ ranks.

Only Januzaj, driving down the left or shimmying through the middle, played as if remembering United’s tradition of fearless attacking. Ryan Giggs occasionally contributed, seeing a shot deflect off Bardsley on to the bar.

Januzaj then 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 could have their allocation cut on their next visit.

United had brought a huge following. But the sight of many empty seats elsewhere told a story as much of financial hardship endured by many in the area rather than loss of a love supreme for the Sunderland team.

A third home game in six days had emptied 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 £215 for the nine home fixtures.

The team’s spirits, if not their league position, have been lifted immeasurably by Poyet. His team weathered a flurry of United pressure, including a Nemanja Vidic header wide, before taking the 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 equalizer. 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.

Sunderland responded. David De Gea saved from Larsson. Poyet sent on 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.

Moyes was livid afterwards, believing that Johnson had dived when really the United manager should have been focusing on why Cleverley made such an awkward challenge, going in with his right foot when the natural angle will have been to make the tackle with his left. Borini thumped the penalty high into the net.

Rafael was cautioned for dissent and should then have been given a second yellow when fouling Borini. Sunderland’s players then defended well to preserve their lead. Some of United’s players need to move up a gear or be moved out.

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