Comment: Manchester United's fragility and despair was apparent after a minute of Capital One Cup defeat to Sunderland

David Moyes saw his side lost the first leg of the semi-final 2-1

the stadium of light

Wes Brown and John O'Shea know the value the League Cup can bring to Manchester United when the walls are falling in on their season.

When they appeared for Sir Alex Ferguson in the final of the 2006 edition, Ruud van Nistelrooy was at war with the club and his omission from the Millennium Stadium showpiece was the main drama of the day. But O'Shea and Darren Fletcher were beginning to assert themselves as young professionals, Cristiano Ronaldo was waiting in the wings and Wayne Rooney was bursting into the big time. His two goals against Wigan Athletic in that final helped him to his first piece of silverware.

The United that Brown and O'Shea watched from their central defensive stations is changed utterly. Ferguson, chewing his lip under a maroon beret and seemingly unable to conjure words to say to Bryan Robson, found his decision to release the defenders momentarily vindicated.

Their collective muscle was unable to prevent Nemanja Vidic storming through them to head an equaliser. But nothing could mask another desperate staging post on the extraordinary fall of a club whose fans say will "never die" but which is doing precisely that.

If success in football were a measure of a collective desire to make an outcome happen, the United supporters would have had their team home.

The gloom around Wearside about Sunderland's dreadful inconsistency and apparent Premier League doom left their stadium echoing with emptiness, with only 32,000 of the 49,000 seats filled as the team sought overtures of 1973, the year of the Wembley Cup final which they have experienced only twice since.

It was the visiting fans – 4,000 of them – who filled the place with noise. They were singing about their 20 titles in the pubs two hours before kick-off and their noise rose to a crescendo as the acrid smell of the flares cut through the night air. In the way that these things often transpire, the full cacophony coincided with that Vidic equaliser.

But we all know that noise and desire is not enough. Those fans' team is written through with feelings of fragility and despair: that much was telegraphed from the 50th second, when Tom Cleverley cursed himself for his first mishit pass of another sub-standard night.

He was still shaking his head a full minute later. The weakness became emphatically apparent as a Sunderland side hardly buoyed by belief either took control. Ki-Sung yeung is building a reputation which was further enhanced here.

Moyes did not find the leaders he required after the ignominy of Sunday's FA Cup home defeat to Swansea. A sense of history was required; the sentiment that his players were damned if they would suffer their first three-match losing run since the one sustained at the end of the 2000-01 season – by a team that had already lifted the title.

It didn't come. Moyes' protestations about the winning penalty were hollow when his defence somehow conspired to allow Sebastian Larsson the chance of the night, unchallenged to shoot in the area.

Sunderland's struggle to blend the 13 summer signings – 12 foreign, the majority youthful and only five with previous Premier League experience – are proof that the money Moyes is being urged to spend can bring its difficulties. But Sunderland have a habit of yielding results against big clubs. They have now beaten Manchester City, Newcastle and Everton in the league; Chelsea and Manchester United in this cup. They had a sense of entitlement that United simply lacked.

United's chief executive, Ed Woodward, is willing to respond opportunistically in this month's transfer market to arrest this crisis, though generating those opportunities is the challenge. Football was a far less global place when Ferguson signed Henrik Larsson on loan in January 2007, after his chief scout Jim Lawlor had pointed out that it was a waste for the player to be plying his trade at Helsingborgs when he belonged on a bigger stage. When the Swedish club wouldn't sell, Ferguson asked Lawlor to ask about a loan. The same kind of creative thinking is required again.

Though the tie is not over, the positives for United are hard to summon up. Sunderland have no reason to fear Old Trafford in two weeks. And even if United can climb that mountain, Manchester City will probably lie in wait at Wembley. That could mean another public exposition of how far they have fallen.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried