LONDON, (Reuters) – Manchester United’s troubled season took another turn for the worse when they lost 1-2 to Sunderland in a penalty shootout in a dramatic League Cup semi-final yesterday.
United looked to be heading for the final against Manchester City when they led 1-0 two minutes from the end of extra time before a dreadful error by goalkeeper David de Gea gifted Sunderland’s Phil Bardsley an equaliser.
Javier Hernandez scored in the last minute to send the match to a shootout but Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj, Phil Jones and Rafael all failed to convert their spot-kicks to put Sunderland through.
“We did not play well enough, we had the chances to put it to bed but didn’t,” United manager David Moyes told Sky Sports.
“Sunderland played well and they deserve credit but overall we looked like we would get there until the last minute.
“”I was disappointed, but we did not play well enough in the end. They did not give us too many problems, we might have scored on the break but we couldn’t, and it cost us. That’s football, we’ll get on with it, pick ourselves up and go again.”
United were on course for the final when Jonny Evans scored with a close-range header shortly before halftime but De Gea failed to stop a routine 20-yard shot from Bardsley in the 119th minute and could only watch the ball squirm off his palm and into the corner of the net.
United stunned the visitors by hitting back in the final minute of extra time, Hernandez sweeping home off the underside of the bar from Januzaj’s low cross to win the game 2-1 and force the shootout with the scores level at 3-3.
“It’s happiness,” Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said. “The feelings are for the fans. It’s been a difficult season, nothing to enjoy but they deserve this. The lads were immense. In the cups you never know what will happen.”
United, seventh in the Premier League and out of the FA Cup after a poor start to Moyes’s reign as manager, were left to rue not only a woeful performance in the shootout but a glaring miss by Hernandez in extra time.
Januzaj did well to wrestle free on the right and feed the striker on the break, but Hernandez, running unopposed on keeper Vito Mannone, decided to take on an early shot and wafted a left-foot effort well wide.
It was one of the few clearcut chances in a game full of determination but lacking in quality.
United were still without strikers Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney, who are recovering from injury, so Moyes opted for Hernandez and Welbeck up front, and it was Hernandez who had United’s first chance, heading down and forcing a save from Mannone in the eighth minute.
Poyet went with Scot Steven Fletcher as his lone striker, but it was Fabio Borini, the Italian on loan from Liverpool and who scored from the spot in the first leg, who posed the biggest threat for the visitors early on.
It was not until eight minutes before halftime that Evans put United ahead on the night and the aggregate scores were levelled at 2-2.
Darren Fletcher bundled Shinji Kagawa’s cross on to the post before the home side forced a corner moments later, and from the delivery Welbeck turned the ball goalwards with a touch of his right boot and Evans, losing his marker John O’Shea, stole in at the far post to nod the bouncing ball home.
Rafael was within inches of making it 2-0 with a shot with his weaker left foot from outside the area early in the second half, and five minutes later Januzaj tried his luck from distance with his favoured left foot.
Sunderland enjoyed another spell of possession midway through the second period, with Adam Johnson often moving into the centre to direct his side’s attacks.
Johnson came closest to giving Sunderland the edge again when he controlled a cross with his chest and, with Alexander Buttner slipping, volleyed at De Gea’s goal from eight yards out, but left-back Buttner threw himself at the ball and deflected it for a corner.