FULL TIME: Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland (agg 3-3; Sunderland win 2-1 on penalties)

That's a richly deserved win for Sunderland, who were the better team on the night, although they did struggle to get shots in on goal. When they did... well, poor David de Gea, who won't forget that howler in a hurry. It won't make him feel any better, but he can't be blamed for United's lethargic performance, and shouldn't be the fall guy. David Moyes stomps off in disgust and despair. But this isn't really about him. The Black Cats will contest a major Wembley final for the first time since 1992. Manchester City await. A tough test, but if they can come through this, they can come through anything!

Rafael misses! Mannone saves down to his right! And SUNDERLAND ARE GOING TO WEMBLEY!!! They lost 2-1 on the night, but beat Manchester United 2-1 on a frankly hapless set of penalties!

Johnson misses! De Gea palms over! But Rafael has to score to take it to sudden death. And ...

PEN 4: Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United

Ki batters a perfect penalty into the top right. Jones can only score three rugby points. If Adam Johnson scores, Sunderland are going to Wembley. That's Adam Johnson, formerly of Manchester City, ...

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PEN 3: Sunderland 1-1 Manchester United

Alonso buries a confident effort into the right-hand side of the net. Januzaj steps up - and sees his quick prod down the middle snaffled by Mannone. We're all level after three!

PEN 2: Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United

Fletcher telegraphs a useless penalty towards the bottom left. Far too soft. De Gea palms clear, and sticks a hand in the air in celebration. United's Fletcher nearly replicates the mistake, but at least his soft effort is right in the left-hand corner, and Mannone can't reach it.

PEN 1: Sunderland 0-0 Manchester United

Gardner blooters his high over the bar. Then Welbeck shanks one miles wide right!

And breathe. Sunderland were seconds away from their first domestic cup final since 1992. What a heartbreaker for a club and a set of supporters who haven't enjoyed the regular success United have had over the years. But this is what football is all about. Can they pick themselves up and win the shootout? United should be favourites after that, but who knows what will happen? The kicks will be taken in front of Sunderland's fans. Craig Gardner will be first up.

FULL TIME: Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland

Who says United don't do last-minute drama any more? And here's a chance of redemption for David de Gea! As a famous old boy once said, football, effing nora! Or something like that.

WHAT A FINISH!!! Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland (Hernandez ET 30)

Januzaj one-twos with Smalling down the inside left and is clear in the area. He fires a low ball through the six-yard box - and at the far post, Hernandez roofs it! He nearly missed it, but it's under the bar and in! What a dramatic finish!

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GOAL!!! Manchester United 1-1 Sunderland (Bardsley ET 29)

Oh dear, poor David de Gea. Sunderland get their first effort on target. Bardsley, to the right of the D, shoots low and hard, and straight at the keeper - who fumbles, allowing the ball to spin to the left and into the bottom corner of the net! What a slow-motion shocker. Ee, he's a poor lad.

ET 28 min: United faff around at the back, allowing Bardsley to get his foot on the ball near the right-hand post. He fires it straight through the six-yard box. Had anybody touched that, either in yellow or red, that was clanking into the net. United survive, and break upfield. Alonso is booked for putting an illegal stop to United's gallop.

ET 27 min: Januzaj is booked for some cynical timewasting that doesn't suit his age.

ET 26 min: Altidore, who has been willing but is no Borini, wins a corner down the left. Fletcher gets his eyebrows on the set piece, but wafts it well over the bar.

ET 25 min: A strange business as Hernandez attempts to take the ball into the corner down the right. He falls. The ball breaks to Welbeck, whose snap shot ends up on the roof of the net from a tight angle. Everyone looks about wondering what on earth just went on.

ET 23 min: Jones has been booked for congenital clumsiness. Free kick to Sunderland, out on the left. Johnson whips it in. Fletcher, six yards out, gets his head to the ball, but he's under pressure from Jones, who salvages some pride by bothering the striker into guiding his header wide right.

ET 22 min: Brown's loose header, down the United right, is picked up by Januzaj. The young man should feed Jones, clear down the inside-left channel, but tries to chip Mannone from distance. Nope. Sunderland go up the other end, Ki nearly carving out an opening to shoot on the edge of the box, but he hesitates and is closed down.

ET 20 min: Gardner is booked for a cynical tug on Januzaj as the young man attempts to break upfield. I guess he had no choice in these desperate circumstances. This game has been played in a great spirit.

ET 19 min: United are sitting deep. Gardner whips a ball into the area from the right. Fletcher can't get to it. Sunderland keep on comin' on. Colback gets in Fletcher's way. Alonso goes on a dance down the middle and nearly makes the area. Nothing's coming off for them, though.

ET 17 min: Fletcher gets his neep to a Johnson cross from the right. The ball sails left towards Altidore, who can't get to it before it flies out of play. The striker goes to ground, in hope of a penalty, having felt Rafael's arm around him. That would have been as soft as hell, but they've been given before. Sunderland can't really complain, though.

And we're off again! Sunderland get the ball moving at pace, and with extreme prejudice. They really need that goal!

EXTRA TIME, HALF TIME: Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland

Another Sunderland corner comes to naught. And that's it for the opening half of extra time. Manchester United are 15 minutes from Wembley. English football is 15 minutes away from its first all-Mancunian major final!

ET 14 min: It's been a lively extra time so far. Fletcher blooters goalwards from distance, his shot deflected out for a corner, which is wasted. United again stream up the other end, but Hernandez runs out of puff as he attempts to make ground down the left wing. Meanwhile here's an email from a chap who would rather remain anonymous: "To add to the Hazehurst chat: I write questions for Mastermind, and this series - thanks largely to the influence of the persistent pro-Hazlehurst bias in your MBMs - I slotted in a Hazlehurst question. It featured the other night. It was: Who composed the theme tunes to the programmes 'The Likely Lads', 'Last Of The Summer Wine', 'Are You Being Served?' and 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em', among many others? The guy had no idea. O tempora, o mores." My work is done. I can die happy now.

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ET 13 min: Sunderland need a goal, and are leaving gaps at the back. Now Welbeck has a punt from the edge of the area, but Mannone's well behind it.

ET 12 min: ... opens his body and sidefoots a hapless effort from 20 yards well wide of the left-hand post! He only had Mannone to beat! What a glaring miss!

ET 11 min: Gardner hoicks a ball straight down the middle. Colback is in the vague environs, but De Gea should gather. And he would have, had Smalling not panicked and headed behind for a totally needless corner. From which, to Smalling's relief, United break upfield through Januzaj down the right. Januzaj looks up, and spots Hernandez racing into the Sunderland half totally unmarked! He swings a ball inside, for the striker, who ...

ET 9 min: Busy work from Bardsley, who wins a corner for Sunderland down the right. Johnson's set piece is punched clear by De Gea, under a fair bit of pressure. Another phase of play sees Sunderland coming back at United, Johnson knocking a ball inside from the right, Bardsley pulling a tired effort wide of goal on the same side.

ET 8 min: A Hernandez backheel sets Welbeck into the area down the left, but Bardsley is staunch and holds him off. The striker can't get a shot away, and falls on his arse, making a claim for a penalty which to be fair he clearly doesn't believe in. "Did Januzaj cut the oranges, make the tea and give the team talk before extra time?" asks Gerry Carr. "The players seem to expect the 18 year old to do everything else."

ET 6 min: Smalling clips Altidore as the striker makes good down the inside left. A free kick just to the left of the D. Gardner attempts to float one into the top left, but there's too much on the effort, which flies over the bar.

ET 5 min: Carrick has pulled up. It looks like his hamstring, writes Dr Murray, who to be honest has no clue whatsoever, and is winging it. Jones replaces him.

ET 4 min: Johnson finds himself in space down the right, but his low cross is never going to find Fletcher, on the back foot in the area.

ET 2 min: United started out on the front foot there, but Sunderland are pinging it around the middle in an attempt to regain a foothold in the game. I wonder whether they'll miss Borini, who was superb for them, holding the ball up adroitly and linking play wonderfully. Fewer passes are sticking for the away team.

And we're off again! United get the ball rolling. Sunderland were certainly the better side in that second half, but couldn't make the breakthrough. That's been fine up until now, but United will be on their way to Wembley if Sunderland can't find the net in extra time: they're ahead in this tie on away goals, which now count double. Valencia wins a corner within the first 23 seconds, after skittering down the left, but Mannone plucks Januzaj's corner from the sky.

FULL TIME: Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland (agg 2-2)

Januzaj floats a chip towards the top-right corner, but there's no way an effort with such a lack of juice is beating Mannone. The keeper claims, and that's it! We go to extra time!

90 min +2: Hernandez embarks on a jink down the middle of the park. Suddenly Sunderland are retreating in fear! O'Shea steps out to upend the player on the edge of the D. He'll be booked, and United will have a free kick that'll send them to Wembley if it whistles in!

90 min +1: Bardsley whips another dangerous cross into the United box from the right. Not for the first time, the home side get away with it. The ball bounces around a while with Fletcher lurking, before Smalling hacks clear.

90 min: There will be three added minutes. If nobody score, there'll be another 30!

89 min: Rafael whips a low cross in from the right. Mannone deals with it, albeit in a rather strange fashion, launching himself along the turf and punching. Sunderland scramble for a corner, which they again deal with well. United have turned up the heat a wee bit, and they certainly needed to, for Sunderland were knocking on the door back there.

88 min: Valencia skins Alonso down the right. He's in space, but the full back does well to recover and block the cross out for a corner. Sunderland deal with the set piece diligently.

86 min: Borini is replaced by Altidore, who had a shocker against Southampton at the weekend. There's a player who really owes his team something. He couldn't, could he?

85 min: United fans will be heartened to hear that Buttner has made his last questionable contribution of the evening. Evra comes on in his stead.

83 min: Buttner is tying his laces. A throw is flung over his slow head, allowing Johnson to race into the area down the right. He loops the ball in for Borini, alone on the spot. The striker really should cause United some problems, but miscontrols. The ball flies into the air, and by the time it comes back down, he can only hoick it hopelessly and harmlessly out of play to the left of goal, under pressure from United's centre backs.

82 min: A change for Sunderland, who are on top right now. Gardner comes on for Cattermole. "I hope regular reader and Rangers fan Ryan Dunne doesn't click that link to the Ronnie Hazelhurst memorial MBM," writes Simon McMahon. "From Lyon to Forfar in six years. Don't think even Frank Spencer managed that."

80 min: Two serious shots on the United goal now. The first from Alonso, cutting in from the left, whistles just wide right of goal. Not sure whether De Gea would have had that covered. Then Fletcher hits one for the bottom right, but the keeper gathers at the base of his post.

78 min: Fletcher chases a ball he should never get down the inside-right channel. Smalling allows him to get ahead. Fletcher is, for a nanosecond, clear on goal, albeit 35 yards out. Smalling gently grabs him around the waist from behind to drag him down. It would be the softest of sendings off, but a red card's what the referee would have had to give, had he blown for a foul. As it is, Sunderland get nothing. You'll see that moment again if Sunderland don't get to Wembley.

76 min: He's nearly had something else to moan about here. Sunderland press United back. First Johnson chests down a left-wing Borini cross on the penalty spot; Buttner's desperate leg defects the resulting shot out for a corner with the goal gaping. Sunderland still haven't had a shot on target! There are a couple more phases to the pressure once the corner's taken, but nothing worth writing home about.

75 min: Carrick has time to shoot from 20 yards, but attempts to spring Rafael into the box with a pass down the right channel that proves overhit. David Moyes isn't happy with United's lack of cohesion in attack.

74 min: Bardsley suddenly gets a yard on Buttner down the right, and whips an incendiary cross through the United area. Fletcher can't quite get his noggin to the blistering ball. United were all over the place there. Old Trafford was back to the old collective teeth-sucking and sharp air-intaking. That was a hell of a cross.

72 min: All a bit scrappy, this, at the moment. Suddenly, a seemingly aimless ball down the United right looks useful as Rafael romps towards it, Sunderland having fallen asleep. Mannone races out of his area to clang the ball into the stand. From the throw, United pass it around awhile, then Januzaj attempts to recreate Samuel Eto'o's opener at Stamford Bridge last weekend. But instead of a shot deflecting into the net from the right-hand edge of the box, it flies out for a corner. Welbeck meets the set piece at the left-hand post with a combination of shoulder and back, the ball looping into Mannone's hands at close range. That's a bit better for United.

69 min: Valencia turns on the burners, and scorches the right wing. It injects some much-needed pace into United's game, and puts Sunderland on the back foot. Valencia zips a low ball across the face of the box. Januzaj races in to meet, but he's momentarily misplaced his shooting boots, and this one squirts off to the left. That got the crowd going, though.

67 min: Another long-distance hoick by Januzaj, but this one's poor, dragged off to the right, Mannone's goal in no danger whatsoever. Sunderland will be happy that, at the moment, they're restricting the English champions to speculative skelps.

65 min: Borini is booked for a hack on Evans' shin. That was clumsy and mistimed rather than malicious, but he deserved the caution nevertheless.

63 min: A long hoof down the middle of the park is brought under control brilliantly by Fletcher, who leaps about 38 feet into the air. Borini jinks around down the left, then offloads to Ki. The cerebral midfielder shimmies this way and that, hoping to prise United open somehow, but the red line holds firm. Meanwhile the Some Mothers riff will never end. "Do you think by choosing Moyes, lord Ferg might have 'done a whoopsie'?" wonders Dan Beeler, going for cheap laughs, but ones Moyes will be able to take, he's got one foot in a major cup final after all.

62 min: Rafael bowls Alonso to the floor as the Sunderland defender saunters up and down the left wing. Free kick. Brown nearly brings down a long ball near the right-0hand post, but can't keep it in. Moyes makes the first change of the evening: Kagawa is replaced by Valencia.

59 min: A lot of Sunderland possession. United are sitting back and letting the visitors have the ball. They've had 62% of possession since the restart. Colback finally loses patience and clips a ball down the right channel towards Fletcher, but there's too much pace on the pass and United can shepherd it out for a goal kick. The home fans are getting slightly anxious.

56 min: Borini, who is showing plenty of the good stuff himself in Sunderland colours, makes himself a yard down the left and hammers a shot at goal. It's charged down brilliantly by Smalling. This is shaping up to be a decent end-to-end affair. Sunderland - who have over an hour to find the goal they need - haven't let United's goal deflate them by any means.

55 min: Januzaj, nearly 30 yards out, takes a step towards the Sunderland area and sends a dipping shot towards the bottom right. The effort's wide, but really not far away at all, and it's not clear whether Mannone would have got his pinkies to it were the ball on target. Wow, this lad is some talent.

53 min: Johnson takes a dig from the edge of the area, level with the right-hand post. It pings off Carrick's ankles and out for a corner, but it's not a set piece the visitors will be taking, because the referee and linesman point for a goal kick. Johnson attempts to engage the referee in a Hegelian dialectic but, racing after him, gets no further than thesis before Lee Mason puts an end to the debate.

51 min: Buttner rather clumsily bundles over Ki down the right. The resulting free kick allows Sunderland to apply a bit of pressure, Fletcher, Ki and Borini all causing trouble before Smalling is forced to hack out for a corner on the right. From the set piece, Ki whips the ball to the far post where Smalling has to concede another corner. And the second corner's cleared upfield by ... Smalling, who has made these 60 seconds his very own.

49 min: Sunderland haven't got going in this half yet. Kagawa races into space down the right and his cross is deflected out of play by Brown for a corner. From which, Rafael is afforded an age to drift across the face of the Sunderland area in the style of Georgie Best, right to left, before sending a shot intended for the top right not far over the bar. On the touchline, Gus Poyet considers jigging around in an irate manner.

48 min: Welbeck had an injury scare before half time, apparently. Shows you just how much I was paying attention. Anyway, he's OK now, we're told, running freely. I should probably have kept my trap shut and brazened this one out, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Hey, it's part of our unique charm. Eh?

47 min: ... that's three rugby points. He was aiming for the top right, but got it all wrong. A bright start to the half from the home side. Meanwhile, French Frank isn't letting this Frank Spencer thing lie. "The theme tune by Ronnie Hazlehurst features a piccolo spelling out the title in Morse code, excluding the apostrophes. ... --- -- . -- --- - .... . .-. ... -.. --- .- ...- . . -- .-.-.- S o m e/m o t h e r s /d o /a v e/e m /(full stop). Shouldn't that be Moyes code?" Ah, the genius that was Ronnie Hazlehurst. The subject of the only Memorial Minute-By-Minute in Guardian history, kids.

And we're off again! It's only a few seconds before Hernandez embarks on a sashay straight down the middle of the park. He's upended just outside of the D. Januzaj steps up to take the free kick and ...

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I'm not 100 percent sure what it's advertising, to be perfectly honest. Scandinavia? Woolly jumpers and hipster hats? Nordic functionalism? Italy? I'm not really sure at all. Still, that's not the point of this rather groovy feature, dad, which sadly ends tonight.

HALF TIME: Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland (agg 2-2)

A half-time lead for United, and one they just about deserve. Sunderland will be happy with their overall performance, though, which should make for a fairly interesting second period. As things stand, we'll be heading to extra time.

43 min: Borini bustles with purpose down the left and, under pressure from Rafael and forced to turn back slightly, whips a fine cross into the middle for Fletcher. But Evans is right on top of his game at present, and holds his position firmly, denying Fletcher the chance to attack the ball with the heid. This has been a pretty impressive response to falling behind by Sunderland. Old Trafford certainly isn't as loud as it should be right now.

42 min: Sunderland aren't of a mind to lie down, neutrals after some entertainment will be pleased to hear. Fletcher makes ground down the right, and isn't far from slipping a low pass across to Johnson, but Evans, the hero of the moment, intercepts. 

41 min: Another Sunderland corner down the left. O'Shea gets his head to the ball, level with the right-hand post, and heads goalwards. Buttner is on hand to eyebrow it over the bar. Whether that was exactly on target isn't clear, but Buttner didn't have time to wonder, and defended brilliantly. Another corner, from which, nowt.

40 min: The sense of relief around Old Trafford is palpable. United deserve the lead on the balance of play. Januzaj and Kagawa have been excellent. "The mention of Lou Macari reminds me of a favourite story," writes Simon McMahon. "Following his ill-fated spell as Celtic manager, one of the players was asked 'What did you learn from Lou Macari?'. Without hesitating they replied, 'In night time racing on an all-weather track, go for a horse with a low draw'."

GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland (Evans 37)

... the ball's whipped into the centre. On the penalty spot, Welbeck attempts to guide one into the left-hand side of the net, but rather scuffs his effort. No matter! Because the ball squirts to Evans, in acres of space on the left-hand edge of the six-yard box! He can't miss, and doesn't, heading home purposefully! As things stand, it's 2-2 on aggregate. We'll go to extra time, though if the scores stay the same after that, United are through to the final on away goals!

36 min: Kagawa dinks and dribbles down the right and into the area. He scoops the ball to the far post, where Fletcher guides an effort onto the post! So unlucky! Welbeck can't slam home the rebound, but Sunderland are forced to bundle out for a corner on the right. From which ...

34 min: Johnson is going nowhere down the Sunderland right. Welbeck, having finally popped up a few minutes ago, continues his star turn by upending the winger. A free kick in a dangerous position, which Johnson rather wastes with a flat delivery. He even gets a second chance, but no dice.

31 min: Welbeck has been quiet so far. He drifts in from the left and scores three rugby points with a fairly poor shot from the edge of the area.

29 min: Januzaj, not for the first time this season, is at the heart of all United's positive moves. He combines with Kagawa down the right and chips a cross into the middle, but not with any great accuracy. Decent combination play, though. Buttner gathers on the other wing, and his slightly witless cross is deflected into the hands of Mannone.

26 min: Januzaj cleverly releases Rafael into the area down the right. For a second it looks like Rafael will have space to pick someone out with a cross, but Borini is over quickly to close him down. That's brilliant harrying by Borini, who did very little at Anfield last season, albeit suffering with injury, but seems to be finding his feet in top-level English football at Sunderland.

24 min: Corner to Sunderland down the left. It's fired to the far post, but O'Shea can't get his napper near it. "Could we get Moyes to fall through the roof before a pre-match interview, to keep up the Frank Spencer likeness?" wonders Chris Gardiner. "Preferably in dungarees with paint on them. It's a long shot but 70's comedy fans would appreciate this light touch." We'll need to find out if David Moyes does his own stunts, Michael Crawford style, first.

22 min: Cattermole rather brilliantly robs Fletcher in the centre circle. Then, with United light at the back, rather less brilliantly hesitates, the chance to break dangerously gone. More of the teeth sucking, this time with added sharp intakes of breath. United aren't quite clicking at the moment. On the touchline, vague Frank Spencer lookalike David Moyes is frowning ostentatiously. "Some Managers Don't 'Ave It," quips French Frank, because someone had to.

21 min: The possession stats are exactly 50-50. Sunderland will be more than happy with this so far. "I was at that first replay at Roker Park in 1976, with my brother, and we remember it chiefly because of Lou Macari," begins Francis Boyle. "The Utd fans, in fine voice, had been singing 'Lou Macari walks on water, la la la la la, la-la la laaa' to the tune of Deck The Halls throughout the match. But then sometime in the second half, one of Sunderland's finest (I forget which one) made an immense, bone-crunching tackle and Macari went down and didn't get up again. All at once, the Fulwell End found their voice: 'Lou Macari walked on water, la la la la la, the bastard SANK!'"

19 min: Liverpool cult hero Luis Garcia retired this week, and Sunderland's Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini nearly scores a memorial goal for him. Remember his screamer against Juventus at Anfield in 2005? This wasn't too far off it, a looping smash from distance, latching onto a long ball down the middle rather than a pass from the right. Still, fairly similar. Other than this one didn't go in, fizzing just over the crossbar instead. It was close enough, mind, for the sucking of a few thousand teeth to be audible.

17 min: Sunderland aren't just sitting back with a view to soaking up pressure. They push forward again, Alonso making ground down the left, then whipping an excitable cross to the far post, where no yellow shirts lurk. No matter, Buttner panics, and skies the ball out of play. It doesn't quite go out for a corner - it's only a throw - but the United fans aren't wholly happy with that, and make their frustrations known. Buttner theatrically points at his lugholes, suggesting he really needed a shout from his fellow defenders, his back having been to the play. He's having a bit of a nightmare so far. So, having said that, the scorer of the winning goal, then, tonight's hero already identified.

15 min: Hernandez repeats the act, only this time down the inside-right channel. Again he handles. It's not quite coming off for the striker yet, but he's putting himself around in the proactive style. United will be pleased with his performance so far.

13 min: Hernandez chases after a looping ball down the inside-left channel, but he's used his arm to control. Still, he nipped towards the byline there with extreme prejudice. He looks in the mood for this tonight, very lively indeed. "Your mention of Gordon Hill, Brian Greenhoff and Stuart Pearson has gotten me all nostalgic for the 70s," writes Justin Kavanagh. "But am I alone in thinking that David Moyes is beginning to bear an uncanny resemblance to Frank Spencer?" You might have something there, actually. We should see what he looks like in a beret. Does anyone have one he can borrow? Or a pair of rollerskates and a length of rope, so we can tie him to the back of a passing bus?

10 min: Ki swings a free kick into the United area from a position near the centre circle down the left. O'Shea heads aimlessly behind, unless he was deliberately going for a spot 20 feet right of the target, in which case he's got that bang on.

9 min: Colback is in plenty of space down the left, but there's no option for him in the centre, so he checks back and fannies around awhile. Eventually he slips the ball inside for Ki, who attempts a shot from 25 yards. It's woefully weak, and rolls harmlessly out of play out on the right.

6 min: Januzaj curls the free kick to the far post. Hernandez, the angle tight, powers a header goalwards. Mannone parries well, and no red shirt can latch onto the loose ball. After a fashion, Sunderland clear. That was so nearly the opening goal. Marvellous delivery by United's player of the season so far.

5 min: Borini slides in on Januzaj as the young United star wheechs down the right. He really should be booked for the challenge, which was ludicrously late, if innocent enough. This will be a free kick in a dangerous position.

4 min: United win the first corner of the evening, Bardsley heading a deep Carrick cross from the right out of play on the left. Januzaj takes, Sunderland deal with it. A bright opening to this game by both sides.

3 min: Buttner, who has yet to convince in a United shirt, goes on a wander down the left but is robbed of the ball by Bardsley with some ease. Sunderland romp up the other end, the excellent Ki instigating the move down the middle. The ball ends at the feet of Alonso along the left, but his cross, Fletcher the intended target, is flat and easily cleared.

2 min: A rare old atmosphere here at Old Trafford. Smalling goes on an early sortie down the middle, but gets nowhere. Fletcher faffs around in the centre circle awhile, but nothing opens up for him either. It's all United possession in the opening exchanges, though. "I'd be interested to know who City fans will be rooting for tonight," begins music hall act Simon McMahon. "Who would they rather face in the final; a struggling, workmanlike team with a new manager, with little or no flair and who struggle to score goals, or Sunderland?" Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together, he's here all week, try the Boddingtons but please do drive home carefully.

And we're off! At the halfway point, Sunderland start the tie 2-1 up. A 1-0 win for United won't be enough to win the tie, as away goals only count double after extra time. But if it's 2-1 after 120 minutes, it'll be kicks from the penalty mark in accordance with the Laws of Association Football. Bring on the drama, my good men! United get the ball rolling. They'll be kicking towards the Stretford End in the second half, and yes I have written it that way because I don't know the name of the stand they're aiming for in the opening 45.

The teams are out! Manchester United are in their famous red clobber ...

... which means Sunderland have to change from their trademark red-and-white stripes into some sort of yellow jazz. But never mind that. No tracksuits, even. In lieu of these outer garments, here's Bob Stokoe in a natty red number at the 1973 FA Cup final, Sunderland's last successful visit to Wembley. Everyone forgets this eye-blistering get-up now, mainly because Stokoe later entertained the country by skedaddling across the Wembley turf in trenchcoat and trilby. You can't buy Stokoe-branded trenchcoats and trilbies at the official Sunderland shop, by the way. An opportunity missed, surely. Anyway, we digress.

Dramatis personæ

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Smalling, Evans, Buttner, Fletcher, Carrick, Januzaj, Kagawa, Welbeck, Hernandez.
Subs: Evra, Jones, Giggs, Lindegaard, Young, Cleverley, Valencia. 

Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Alonso, Ki, Cattermole, Colback, Johnson, Fletcher, Borini.
Subs: Ustari, Vergini, Larsson, Gardner, Celustka, Altidore, Giaccherini. 

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire) 

Of course, some are saying that this is a particularly vital game for David Moyes and Manchester United. Aside from the fact that it's pretty damn important for success-starved Sunderland too, this is arrant nonsense. The League Cup may be the competition that last did for a Manchester United manager — this eejit ...

... was sent skittering down the A56 on his amply upholstered seat after a thrashing at Southampton in 1986 — but even if the Black Cats, 10-1 for the win and 5-1 to hang on for a draw tonight in some places, put the Red Devils out, Moyes will be just fine. For a start, he's just been handed £40m to spend on Juan Mata. But in any case, he's still got a great chance of making next year's Champions League, while people have forgotten that he's actually doing rather well in this year's edition, with the quarter finals within touching distance. Crisis? Only in the minds of entitled toddlers. And journalists. Which admittedly are arguably one and the same, I'll give you that.

Sunderland have made a habit of giving Manchester United a hard time in the League Cup. They've only been drawn together twice before in the hunt for English football's only three-handled major prize, but on both occasions there's been quite a story to tell.

In 2000, Dwight Yorke put United ahead at the Stadium of Light in the first half of a fourth-round tie. But when Julio Arca headed an equaliser with a quarter of an hour to go, Yorke lost the head, lunging in with both feet on Emerson Thome and getting himself sent off. Sunderland went on to win in extra time thanks to a Kevin Phillips penalty. A mighty fine result for the Black Cats, for United were right at the peak of their imperial phase under Alex Ferguson, although the side they put out that night included Michael Clegg, Michael Stewart, Luke Chadwick, David Healy, Ronnie Wallwork, Danny Webber, and Jonathan Greening, so it's fair to say they were pushing their luck a wee bit.

That was nothing compared to the first time the sides met in 1976, in the third round at Old Trafford. On six minutes, Gordon Hill eschewed the opportunity to clear from his own area in the then-fashionable English 'blooter' style, and flicked a pass inside to Stewart Houston instead. Oh dear! Roy Greenwood stepped in and set up Ray Train to whistle one home. United equalised through Stuart Pearson, and though Tony Towers belted home a screamer with ten minutes remaining to regain the lead for the visitors, Jeff Clarke scored an own goal with less than 180 seconds left on the clock.

The sides replayed the tie at Roker Park. Again Sunderland took an early lead thanks to a United mistake - Jimmy Nicholl gave away a penalty which Towers converted - and again Sunderland threw away victory. First the hapless Clarke failed to deal with a Brian Greenhoff cross, which flew into the net for 1-1. Then, after Train again looked to have won it on 87 minutes, Joe Bolton handled to give Gerry Daly the chance to convert a late penalty. Another 2-2 draw.

United won the second replay, held at Old Trafford, with a late strike from Greenhoff. So whoever comes out victorious tonight not only books a place in the 2014 final - it'll either be the first Manchester derby in a major final, or Sunderland's first big event since 1992 - they'll also take the lead in this little mini-series. Stakes are high, huh? And with Sunderland going into the second game of this two-legged affair with a hard-fought 2-1 advantage from their home tie, we're almost guaranteed another great tale for the ages.

It's: On!

Kick off: 7.45pm

Updated