Old Trafford is simply not the same without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm for Manchester United. Manager David Moyes has yet to inspire much life into the Red Devils, and Wednesday’s second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinals has further complicated the already tumultuous situation for the Manchester Club.
In the first leg, Sunderland earned a surprise 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light. However, all signs pointed to United returning to the fortress that is Old Trafford and winning on aggregate, setting up a mouthwatering Manchester derby for the Cup final (Manchester City embarrassed West Ham United 9-0 over two legs to advance).
Though neither Wayne Rooney nor Robin van Persie were fit for the match, with United’s mediocre performance in league so far and stunning FA Cup exit earlier this month, this trophy would have salvaged at least some shred of pride this season. So, one would have expected an all out rampage in this return leg—a rampage to stave off a full year of embarrassment.
A 37th minute header from Jonny Evans had United up 1-0 (2-2 agg.) and poised to advance with but one more goal. They could not find one, though, and normal time ended at 2-2.
Almost every competition would have sent United through with this scoreline on away goals. However, the unique League Cup sent this tie into extra time. All United needed to do to secure a date with City was hold of relegation-poised Sunderland for 30 more minutes. But, the Football Gods (at least those followed by everyone but United fans) were in quite the good mood Wednesday afternoon.
With but one minute left in extra time, United keeper David De Gea channeled his inner Robert Green circa World Cup 2010 and spilled a Phil Bardsley strike into the side netting, putting Sunderland up 3-2 on aggregate and seemingly into the final. The tabloids were poised and ready the release hellfire onto the Red Devils themselves. But, in a ridiculous twist, United’s Javier Hernandez finished a delectable Adnan Januzaj cross to level the aggregate score in stoppage time and send the match into penalties.
After Sunderland came so close to a historic result, it seemed United had just enough Sir Alex magic left to pull this one out, especially after Sunderland’s Craig Gardner and Steven Fletcher both failed to convert, even after a Danny Welbeck miss.
Wonderkid Adnan Januzaj—only 18 years old, two months younger than me—had a chance to put United in the driver’s seat after both Darren Fletcher and Marcos Alonso converted. But, his lack of experience showed with a poor effort, easily saved by Vito Mannone. Then, after Ki Sung-Yeung put the Black Cats ahead, Phil Jones failed to even test the keeper, blasting his attempt way over.
Adam Johnson, Sunderland’s in-form star right now, had the chance to win it, but De Gea made a sprawling save to his left, further complicating the plot. Finally, though, there had been enough craziness for one day, and Rafael’s effort was saved, sending Sunderland through to the final, and, more importantly, sending United further into their downward spiral.
Since David Moyes took over in July, United have lost five times in front of their home crowd. That’s five losses in just seven months on the west side of Manchester. You have to go back sixteen months before Moyes’ arrival to reach five losses again. With untimely exits in both domestic cups, a startlingly average seventh place in the current Premier League table, and not much hope to win in the hotly contested Champions League, the 2013-2014 season could end up being one huge nightmare for Manchester United.
On the other hand, though goal-scoring machine Manchester City await Sunderland in the final, this semi-final win, along with their recent run of form, could eventually propel the Cats out of the relegation zone.
United will look to get back on track next Tuesday with a league match against Cardiff City (as, of course, they are already out of the FA Cup, which will stage its fourth round this weekend). They may have even bigger problems than winning trophies on their hands:
The Capital One Cup Final will take place at Wembley Stadium in London on March 2 at 11:00 am EST.
By Craig Weisenfeld