Manchester United have lost three games in a row for the first time since May 2001. And those were in their final three league games of the season (Derby at home and Southampton and Tottenham away) when they had already won the title weeks earlier. Once again, they were mediocre going forward, lacked drive in the middle and conceded poor goals. Sunderland, who were worth the win, were rarely extended and were not made to look like they are bottom of the league, which they are. The only consolation for United is that a 2-1 defeat is not a terrible result given that they have the second leg at home - but the performance raises further questions about their ability to finish in the top four. Sunderland have now beaten Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United at home. Strange sport. Bye.
Full-time: Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United
Now it has!
90 min+6: The whistle still hasn't gone...
90 min+4: Mannone is booked for wasting time at a goal-kick.
90 min+3: Johnson shoots with his right from 25 yards out and I'm pretty sure a small gust of wind might have blown the ball back to him, such was the absence of power he achieved. He might stick to the left next time.
90 min+1: Januzaj cuts inside from the right and shoots low. Someone gets a foot to it. Corner. Sunderland are getting anxious but relax once Carrick blazes high and wide from 25 yards. On the touchline, Poyet would like someone to tell him where these five minutes have come from. Father Time, Gus.
90 min: Januzaj finds Rafael on the right. His cross is headed behind by the impressive Brown. Corner. Head tennis ensues. Sunderland are hemmed in. Five minutes of stoppage time.
88 min: United continue to fling crosses into the area, Sunderland continue to head them away. There's not much imagination to United's attacks under Moyes. Cross, cross, cross. "And yet the United fans continue to chant Moyes's name," says Andy Dunn. Give them Sam Allardyce for a few months, see how supportive they are then.
87 min: Carrick is this far away from finding Giggs with a wonderful through-ball. No dice. Javier Hernandez is finally on, replacing Antonio Valencia, who has underwhelmed again.
85 min: "Being a United supporter for 40 years, I am extremely happy for Brown and O'Shea, even the underling Philip Anthony Bardsley, but I am just a bit annoyed with the United approach after going behind to Sunderland," says Soren Jakobsen. "The Cleverly One surely merited a substitution (as he has for most games) but trailing the game, and with a genuine attacking talent like Zaha on the bench, to bring on Fletcher, as happy as I am seeing him back, will do no harm to my growing despair with Moyes." Or Javier Hernandez. It's questionable whether Moyes gets Manchester United - he might see 2-1 as a good result with the home leg still to come, which is the vibe I'm getting, and that's not going to be acceptable, is it.
83 min: Chris Smalling, who is not having a very good season, becomes the third player to be booked for handball. He was discombobulated by Altidore's strength. United aren't doing anything. You'd have a hard time convincing anyone that they are the English champions.
82 min: "I believe that wrestling move from Altidore is called a body slam," says Paul Done.
81 min: Evra charges forward but, with the outside of his left foot, shoots wide.
79 min: Adnan Januzaj is going to be a very special player. He already is, to be honest, he just needs to fill out a bit. Welbeck fed Valencia on the right and he sent a low cross to the near post, where Januzaj dashed in front of his marker and dinked a delicate, imaginative chip agonisingly over the bar. It was the only option available to him but not many players would have had the balls to try it or the brain to think of doing it.
78 min: Bryan Robson is sitting next to Ferguson. Can he play? "You're also wrong about the Rafael challenge - Borini tried to get him sent off," says Andy Dunn. He was but it could still easily have been a booking.
77 min: Altidore is booked for wrestling Rafael to the ground.
76 min: Exhibit A: Valencia crosses from the right. It's a useless cross, sent outside the area, but Fletcher nods it to Januzaj, who improvises brilliantly, swivelling and volleying not too far wide from inside the D.
75 min: Any side would miss Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie but United should still be producing more than this. There's not even the slightest hint of a second equaliser at the moment but football's a funny game and I'M PREPARED TO BE WRONG BECAUSE I'M THE BIGGER MAN, OK.
74 min: Darren Fletcher replaces Tom Cleverley.
72 min: Steven Fletcher has picked up a knock and has had to be replaced by Jozy Altidore.
71 min: Looking at the penalty incident again, Cleverley made it hard for himself by trying to tackle with his 'wrong' foot. Johnson certainly made the most of it but was running at pace. I think it was just inside the area but it was close and I'M PREPARED TO BE WRONG BECAUSE I'M THE BIGGER MAN, OK
70 min: United look for a response and Januzaj is the most likely player to provide one. He finds a yard on the left of the area and his effort flies inches wide with Mannone beaten. The stadium went very silent for a moment.
69 min: Cleverley doesn't want to touch Johnson now. Johnson breezes past the United midfielder and then moves effortlessly away from Carrick, before blasting well over from 20 yards. Johnson is one of the game's underachievers.
66 min: Rafael, booked for his protests about the penalty, protests that featured much finger-pointing from Giggs, should be off for a second yellow card. With the ball in a different post code, he caught Borini late and looked certain to be shown another booking, but only received a final warning from Andre Marriner, who's bottled this one. On the touchline, Poyet erupts. It would have been extraordinary if Rafael had been sent off, given that his twin, Fabio, had an early bath two days ago.
GOAL! Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United (Borini pen, 64 min)
Fabio Borini, on loan from Liverpool, steps up and this is a brilliant penalty, placed high into the top-right corner with his right foot. De Gea went the other way but wouldn't have had a chance either way.
PENALTY TO SUNDERLAND!
63 min: Gus Poyet's substitution worked a treat! Adam Johnson sashays into the area from the right, bursting through a couple of United players, and Cleverley foolishly wraps his leg around him, giving Johnson enough of a reason! Marriner wasn't interested at first but the linesman flagged and the whistle followed. There wasn't loads of contact and it seemed to start outside the area, but it wasn't especially clever from, er, you do the rest.
62 min: Larsson is denied by an excellent save from De Gea, who spares Vidic's blushes in the process. Vidic completely failed to deal with a cross from the right, heading it straight to Larsson, who was unmarked on the right. He struck a volley into the ground and up into the air and De Gea did very well to push it behind.
61 min: Jonny Evans, limping a little, is replaced by Chris Smalling. "A few United's fans (not the majority!) are quietly hoping that Sunderland sneak this and spare United the indignity of a mutilating by City at Wembley," says Mark Payne, who has written this Manchester United book. "Times have, very definitely, changed."
60 min: Bardsley is booked for rattling Januzaj's ankles from behind. No need. He was letting him know he was there, but it would have been nicer just to tell him. "With the shots of the red flares in the crowd the Stadium of Light looks more like Dante's Inferno," says Michael Hood. The United fans are just ensuring the stadium lives up to his name.
59 min: Larsson wafts a free-kick miles over from 25 yards. He used to be good at those. What happened?
57 min: Fabio Borini should restore Sunderland's lead and make himself a Liverpool hero, but wastes an excellent chance. He was released behind the dozing Rafael by Fletcher's header and was clean through on goal but took too many chances, each one of declining quality, and was under pressure by the time he shot, slicing well wide. A poor miss.
56 min: Sunderland make their first change, replacing Giaccherini with Adam Johnson, who's instantly reminded of his City past.
55 min: Januzaj's effort whistles straight at Mannone from 25 yards out. I wouldn't say the goal was coming but United had started strongly and Sunderland had failed to get out of their half for a few minutes.
53 min: United's fans celebrated by letting off a flare and now Martin Tyler is very worried about a bit of red smoke. Though it must be said that a flare was thrown from the United section in the first half and ended up in the Sunderland fans. The FA might look into that.
GOAL! Sunderland 1-1 Manchester United (Vidic, 52 min)
What you might call a captain's goal. Tom Cleverley took the corner and I don't think it was an especially good one, lifted very high to the far post. There wasn't loads of pace on it and Mannone might have thought about coming off his line. But he didn't and Vidic was able to get a run on Brown, who was flat-footed, and head into the corner from six yards out.
51 min: It is indeed too far wide to shoot and Giggs's chipped free-kick is glanced behind by Fletcher for a corner.
50 min: Evra's bobbly cross evades both Welbeck and Valencia, but Sunderland are on the back foot now, and Giaccherini is booked for handling the ball on the right, a couple of yards outside the area. Giggs will take it. It might be a bit too far wide to shoot.
49 min: "Hey Jacob, enough of reporting the misery now," says Soren Jakobsen. "What would you do to change United's fortunes, not talking about this match, but in general?" Make the Glazers give me some money, using hypnosis or tickling them until they say yes if necessary.
48 min: Cleverley shuffles past Cattermole, who reacts second too slow, bringing him down in the middle. United take the free-kick quickly, spraying it out to the right, where Valencia is fouled by Alonso on the touchline. Sunderland clear Giggs's free-kick.
46 min: Sunderland get us going again. There were no changes at half-time, United deciding not to get on the phone to Paul Scholes. "Interesting cultural difference," says Allan Castle. "In North America the normal assumption is that an ex-player in any sport will celebrate wildly when scoring against his old team. Idea I suppose being that it's better to cement/show allegiance to one's new team."
Football writer Miguel 'El Del' Delaney tweets...
Yes, it was a Ryan Giggs own goal. I'm not sure Bardsley even touched it and Giggs definitely did. Giggs has had a pretty luckless first half, hitting the bar, getting a United goal disallowed for offside and scoring an own goal - that must be the first of his career.
I suppose Ferguson gets the blame for selling Brown and Bardsley. He should have known.
The debate about muted celebrations just took on an extra level of nuance, which is great to see.
Phil Bardsley didn't celebrate especially enthusiastically, though it's not clear whether that's because he didn't want to spare the feelings of his former club or whether he wanted to deny Giggs the honour of his first goal of 2014.
Half-time: Sunderland 1-0 Manchester United
GOAL! Sunderland 1-0 Manchester United (Giggs own goal, 45 min+2)
Phil Bardsley comes back to haunt Manchester United. You always knew he'd get his revenge in the end. The goal was made by Wes Brown as well. Someone tell Alanis Morissette. Larsson lofted the free-kick to the far post - beyond the goal - and from the goal-line, Brown was left unmarked to cushion back into the six-yard box where Bardsley slid in, trying to bundle the ball past De Gea. He missed it by inches but his presence was enough to force Giggs, also sliding, to turn it in. There wasn't much he could do.
45 min+1: Evans steams through the back of Fletcher, needlessly, and concedes a free-kick in the middle of United's half. This will be lumped into United's area. And...
45 min: Giggs taps a teasing cross into the area from the left but Mannone is decisive enough to dive on it before any United attacker can latch on to it.
43 min: Giggs swings the corner in and Vidic bounces a header wide. He wants another corner but I want doesn't get.
42 min: Januzaj plays a one-two with Evra on the left but his cutback is shuffled behind by Brown. United are knocking on the door, though in polite fashion for the time being.
41 min: Januzaj is starting to drift inside more, having initially been stationed on the left, and Sunderland are finding it hard to pick him up. He's United's best player. They're increasingly the better side.
39 min: Bardsley shoots from the edge of the area but De Gea could have thrown his cap on it, if he had one to hand.
38 min: Manchester United have the ball in the Sunderland net but the goal is ruled out for offside, though in extremely unfortunate circumstances. Evra drilled a cross from the left to the far side of the area and Januzaj arrived unmarked, around 15 yards out. He didn't catch his strike properly and it hit the unwitting Giggs before coming back to the Belgian/Albanian/Future King of England to thrash past Mannone - but the flag was up as Giggs had strayed a yard offside.
37 min: There have been a few shooting opportunities for Sunderland from edge but too often their touch has let them down.
36 min: It's an mbm, it's Ryan Dunne. "Hawrite Big Stein!" say big ... Dunney? "Combining tonight's festivities with watching a U2 concert DVD (do love some U2; they're up there with the Glorious Glasgow Rangers!) and was wondering what the most exciting thing anybody's ever done whilst reading/emailing MBMs is (plainly we can disregard as fictional all the "having sex/a life" entries)."
33 min: Januzaj seems to enjoy himself against Sunderland. After Welbeck, totally isolated, somehow takes a ball down on his chest, turns and holds off three Sunderland defence, he waited for support and eventually got it from Januzaj. Welbeck found him. Januzaj thought about a shot but was driven wide. Wide he went, over to the left, before cutting back on to his right foot and welping a shot towards the far corner. O'Shea got his head in the way, though. That may well have been on its way in.
32 min: The diminutive Giaccherini wriggles and squirms and eventually throws off Valencia, before trying to cut the ball back to Fletcher, who was waiting with left leg drawn back. But there's Vidic. United are much calmer at the back when he plays.
30 min: After a third of the match, the only shot on target from either side was a tame effort from Danny Welbeck. Anyone who had a dose of Capital One Cup Fever might be feeling the effects of it wear off.
29 min: Valencia crosses from the right. Welbeck is interested. So's O'Shea, though. "Rogue Liverpool fans would not have chosen David Moyes," insists Ian Edgar. "We knew he was consistently punching above his weight at Goodison Park even with that shower he managed. We would have chosen ex-Liverpool, and current England manager Roy Hodgson. The Kop frequently chanted ‘Hodgson For England’ to encourage him to do one. And laughably The FA listened to us. so why not the Glazers?"
28 min: "I'll have a fiver bet with you now Jacob, that Cleverley goes to the World Cup," says Elliot Carr-Barnsley. Declined. But I'd take Jordan Henderson based on this season's form.
25 min: Ryan Giggs, hitherto anonymous, hits the bar from 25 yards out! He was afforded far too much room in the middle and let fly with a left-footer that took a deflection and looped over Mannone but on to the bar, much to Sunderland's relief. That's the closest either side have come to scoring. It's been a poor game so far.
24 min: United's turn to win a free-kick, Januzaj flattened by Bardsley around 25 yards out. Januzaj dusts himself down and smacks it straight into the wall. Forget him, England, he's rubbish. United keep attacking and the ball is crossed to the far from the right, Evra attacking it with Larsson. Larsson leans in just enough to knock Evra off-balance and cause him to handle it accidentally. The Sunderland fans want a yellow card and as Andre Marriner wears a red nose and clown shoes, he obliges.
22 min: A free-kick to Sunderland on the left, Valencia bringing down Alonso, who is making this first half all about him, the greedy get. With the big lads up from the back, Larsson overcooks it and swings the ball out for a goal-kick. The crowd chunter.
21 min: Ki hoicks a pass over Valencia to the relentless Alonso, whose cross is deflected up to the far post by the United winger, Fletcher just unable to reach it. "Maybe Sunderland only sell out when a top floor club is in town," says David Flynn. "Honk."
20 min: And now, as United threaten a counter through the middle, Cleverley dithers in the centre circle and is hassled off the ball by Ki, failing to realise the South Korean was creeping up behind him.
18 min: Tom Cleverley lets a pass run through his legs and out for a throw-in. This is a shame. He's a good player and looked like a potentially excellent one when he was on loan at Wigan and then when he first started playing for United at the start of the 2011-12 season. But injuries seem to have stalled him and now he's playing without any conviction or confidence, just shuffling from side to side in mundane style. Danny Welbeck is going the opposite way, though, growing in stature and he's just had United's first shot, hit from 25 yards out but straight at Mannone.
17 min: Evans tries to slide a pass through to Evra but the United left-back checked his run and the ball runs out for a goal-kick. The camera instantly locates Sir Alex Ferguson in the stands. He's wearing a hat. He might want to think about turning up to games in comedy nose, glasses and moustache soon, the way this is going.
15 min: Sunderland are making most of the running here, with Ki influential in the middle. Another cross from Alonso gives United to think something about. It's headed to the edge of the area. A shot follows. It's blocked. Not very memorable and I instantly forget both who struck it and who got in the way. The move fizzles out when Andre Marriner blows for a United free-kick.
13 min: "If there are empty seats it's always because tickets have been priced too highly," says David Williams. I hear you. But this is a cup semi-final and Sunderland don't get to too many of those. They also have a realistic chance of winning, especially tonight, even if it is against Manchester United. Admittedly West Ham's two legs against City have gone to general sale but West Ham will lose, by my estimations, 20-0 on aggregate.
12 min: Fletcher pokes a pass through Vidic's legs to Borini on the edge of the area. He's held up by a slide from Evans but manages to turn anyway and screw a shot well wide with his right foot.
10 min: United's first proper attack, Welbeck turning neatly in the middle and playing it to Januzaj on the left. He drops a shoulder, a wee hint of menace, but decides to cross. The ball deflects behind off Bardsley, who took that full in the face. He sees stars for a few minutes but he's soon up again. Last time he was lying down in that manner, he was covered in pound notes on the floor of a casino. What a lad. The corner is nothing to write home, or to you lot, about.
8 min: Sunderland are playing with something approaching a high tempo, albeit without that much quality, though are giving their fans something to shout about with a few crunching tackles. Alonso (Marcus, not Xabi) zips down the left and flashes a cross across goal, but no Sunderland player has bothered to amble into the area. Quite right too, best to conserve some energy in these early stages.
6 min: "I am sure the Glazer's will react according to their track record, i.e. complete puzzlement," says Carlos Chiquete. "They might wonder a bit why the Champions League deposit does not come in I suppose. That might stir them up a bit." The Europa League is a great competition.
5 min: It's been a tight start, neither side able to get a foot on the ball and string a few passes together. The United fans are chanting about a Red Army, which admittedly sounds better than a Navy Gingham Army, which would be the factually correct thing to sing this evening.
4 min: The Manchester United fans are generating noise. No one's keeping their spirits down. But why haven't Sunderland managed to get remotely close to selling out tonight? There are so many red seats dotted about the Stadium of Light and, be warned, if no one can give me a reasonable explanation, I'll be labelling this Officially Embarrassing.
2 min: It's a cup semi-final. There are empty seats, even though this match is being played in the famous footballing hotbed that is the north-east of England. Go figure.
Peep! Before kick-off, Falling In Love With You drifts across the stadium. For a moment, the first few twangs made me think it was You'll Never Walk Alone, a real way of getting into United's head. But it wasn't and United are able to take the kick-off without a care in the world. They're attacking from right to left, or left to right in Opposite Land, and are in navy blue shirts and white shorts.
"I once queued for an hour at minus 33 for a sight of Lenin," says Gary Naylor. "He wasn't doing much after all that. Still, he looked more interested in what was going on than Dimitar Berbatov." You were on holiday with Dimitar Berbatov? What's he like to fly with? Calming?
"Here in Helsinki, it should be -20C at this time of year, with at least 2 feet of snow," says Joe McGrath. "It's above +5C, and it's raining. Winter was supposed to arrive at the start of December at the latest... what's going on?! Still, any weather is perfect for some footy. This rain matches my footballing mood (since I'm a United fan). I hope we stick with Moyes for the length of his contract. He did better at Everton than many think (6th last season, minus several good players compared to this season, including Lukaku, Barry, Deulofeu), and the squad/transfer farce hasn't helped him. Given time, he could grow into the job, and frankly there are few alternatives who would come to United and be an improvement in the long term."
Agreed. The Times's Oliver Kay tweeted on Sunday that Moyes's Everton were not as bad as the filth United produced against Swansea and he's right. The players' intensity has dropped. Moyes did well at Everton and there was a glass ceiling for most of his time there - but it was Everton. It is admittedly hard to see exactly what he had done to deserve the United job. Ferguson had to break the Celtic-Rangers duopoly at Aberdeen first. Anyway, the teams are out.
"It's all relative, isn't it?" chinstrokes Simon McMahon. "I dare say most West Ham fans would be delighted to be having Man United's season, and not just in the League Cup. But when you've had the past 20 years of almost unbroken success at Old Trafford, it's only natural that you're disappointed and a bit anxious at how things have unfolded, whereas for most other clubs a cup semi-final and top half of the league represents a successful season. If you want, I'll allow you to call this Steinberg's Theory of (Football) Relativity."
Most West Ham fans would be delighted to win one match, let alone be in the top half. Most sane Manchester United fans won't be getting too carried away. Remember, not so long ago people were wondering whether Arsene Wenger should be sacked. Show some patience and see what happens - if it becomes too much, Moyes will go, but United aren't about to fold up and die. That said, there are standards. They're supposed to be better than this. We - not just United fans - have been accustomed to expecting the best.
"The temperature here has gone above 0 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time since Sunday afternoon (when we got a foot of snow)," says JR in Illinois. He's set his temperature to BRRRRR. "Yesterday was real cold. The low temperature was -14F (-26C) with winds gusting to 43mph. The neat thing was that when you factor the temperature with the wind we reached the point on the wind chill scale (the "feels like" temperature) where Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same number: -40. Pretty neat, huh? Can you imagine how cold that is? Perhaps the only way you might would be to find a large walk-in freezer and go into it and turn on an industrial sized fan and point it right at you. Anyway, I don't have to go outside again until after I watch this massive and fascinating Cup quarterfinal. Yay soccer!"
The cold has frazzled your brain - this is a semi-final, not a quarter.
"You did a nice job of encapsulating United fans' current debating points, repeated ad nauseum BTL in most recent blogs," says Allan Castle. "Most still seem to feel that Moyes will last at least a season. But could he actually be sacked this year? I wouldn't have thought it possible. What do you think is the threshold?"
Relegation? I certainly don't think Moyes will be sacked this season - he's got a six-year contract and was Ferguson's choice. But. I was asked this question on Football Weekly yesterday and started by answering that United don't really seem to be a sacking club, before checking myself; thing is, we don't know. Who was going to sack Ferguson? For 26 years, they never had to be, at least not once Mark Robins had done his thing. We don't know how the Glazers will react.
Sunderland, with a stunning three ex-United players in defence: Mannone; Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Alonso; Larsson, Cattermole, Ki, Giaccherini; Borini, Fletcher. Subs: Gardner, Johnson, Celustka, Colback, Altidore, Ji, Dixon.
Manchester United, minus Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie: De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Giggs, Januzaj; Welbeck. Subs: Lindegaard, Smalling, Hernandez, Fletcher, Kagawa, Buttner, Zaha.
Referee: Dre Marriner.
Evening. David Moyes is The Chosen One. But at the moment, his current output makes it seem like he was chosen by rogue Liverpool or Manchester City fans, rather than Sir Alex Ferguson. Things are not going to plan. Things are not going to plan at all for poor old Manchester United and David Moyes. Knocked out of the FA Cup by Swansea City on Sunday, seventh in the league, beaten five times at Old Trafford already, the injury list growing and mocked in the transfer market, with Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic stalling over signing new contracts, they have rarely known it this bad at United. Relatively speaking, anyway. The fear is gone. No one is scared any more. It's flat. It's dull. It's stagnant. It's not ... United. Every so often, there's a hint of the spark but it soon flickers away when they meet quality opposition; right now United are like Clark Kent after he's been stripped of his powers in Superman 2, straining to revive the old days and utterly bewildered at the sight of his own blood after being cleaned out by a surly customer in a diner. Turns out they're rather squeamish.
For all the criticism of Moyes, though, there are some people who say it's not all his fault and some people would probably be right. The Glazerficiation of the club has more than played its part, with United's much-loved American owners doing the square-root of eff all in the past few years where buying players of the requisite standard is concerned, while even Ferguson has copped some of the flak for
watching matches constructing a squad without a proper central midfielder (other than the excellent but occasionally flinty Michael Carrick, that is) and leaving it to Moyes to pick up the pieces. Less The Chosen One, more The Designated Patsy. Of course, the counter-argument is that Ferguson won the league in April with this squad and that Moyes, along with Ed Woodward, wasted the chance to improve it in the summer. Although he did get Marouane Fellaini, so.
Sunday's defeat to Swansea was a new low. United were so lifeless, so lacking in belief and devoid of imagination, that it felt like a trick of the mind that this was the club who were almost guaranteed to be banging down the door late on in matches and score the winner in stoppage time; instead Fabio was sent off and the ten men succumbed to Wilfried Bony's fine header. There were a few boos and the pressure will grow even more intense if United lose the first leg of this League Cup semi-final to Sunderland, who gave them a scare back in October only to be denied by Adnan Januzaj. Though Sunderland are bottom of the league, it is not inconceivable that this will be another difficult evening for Moyes. Gus Poyet's side are not useless, far from it, and have beaten Chelsea (in this competition), Manchester City and Newcastle at home. They're probably going down but that is not down to a lack of individual talent, more an inability to muster anything more than 15 or 20 minutes of fluent football as a collective unit. And this is a semi-final. A Capital One Cup semi-final. Literally anything could happen!