MANCHESTER, England - Manchester United's desperate season met with fresh degradation yesterday as they sensationally lost on penalties to Sunderland in the League Cup semi-finals at Old Trafford.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, United levelled the tie through Jonny Evans's 37th-minute header, only for Phil Bardsley to net a dramatic equaliser late in extra time with a low shot that squirmed past David de Gea.
Improbably, United promptly went straight up to the other end and equalised through Javier Hernandez, for a 3-3 aggregate scoreline that sent the tie to penalties, but it was to prove a false dawn.
An appalling shoot-out saw only three of the 10 penalty-takers score, but United full-back Rafael da Silva proved the fall guy, with Vito Mannone saving his spot-kick to give Sunderland a 2-1 win.
Having already seen his side beaten by Swansea City in the FA Cup and relegated to 14 points below leaders Arsenal in the league this month, it was another night of misery for United's beleaguered manager David Moyes.
"We did not play well enough," Moyes said.
"We had the chances to put it to bed, but didn't. 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. That's football. We'll get on with it, pick ourselves up, and go again."
Sunderland, second from bottom in the Premier League, can now look forward to a clash with Manchester City in the final on March 2, in what will be their first major final since 1992.
"The feelings are for the fans," said manager Gus Poyet.
"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.