A controversial penalty was the difference as Sunderland beat Manchester United 2-1 in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final on Tuesday evening at the Stadium of Light.
United manager David Moyes should take comfort in the fact that the second leg is in front of the home fans at Old Trafford—despite a number of recent defeats in league and cup there. Nevertheless, he will remain concerned at the manner of another defeat as Fabio Borini’s penalty eventually secured Sunderland’s victory in the first leg.
Borini slotted home confidently from 12 yards after substitute Adam Johnson had been knocked over in the penalty box by Tom Cleverley.
It was a controversial decision for many reasons—firstly, there seemed to be little contact between the two players, while replays also suggested there was some doubt about whether the contact was even inside the box in the first place.
Moyes was livid afterwards, telling Sky Sports:
We had a player booked for the same challenge the other day, for doing the same thing. It's up to the referees, they're making their minds up.
It looks as if we're having to play them as well as the opposition at the moment.
It's really terrible, it really is, we're actually beginning to laugh at them.
Meanwhile Sunderland captain John O’Shea hoped his side could take the result into the Premier League, where they are embroiled in a fight to avoid relegation. He said:
The players know we have plenty of quality, it’s just using it at the right times.
On one-off occasions we seem to be able to do that against big teams, but we need to take that into the league.
A win like today will be a big boost.
United started the game without Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney once again, although Nemanja Vidic was at least restored to the heart of defence—with Danny Welbeck leading the line, and Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia supporting from the flanks.
Sunderland, meanwhile, gave a first start to recent signing Marcos Alonso, while Borini was partnered in attack by Steven Fletcher.
It was the two defences who dominated much of the contest, however, with neither side able to create many clear-cut opportunities. Both Januzaj and Vidic had half-chances in the final 15 minutes before half-time, but neither managed to hit the target.
The opening goal, when it came, came from an unlikely source in unfortunate fashion—Giggs turning into his net from close range under pressure from Phil Bardsley after Sebastian Larsson had dangerously turned a deep free-kick back across goal.
The timing of the strike, just moments before half-time, seemed to be perfect for the hosts, but Manchester United came out the stronger in the second half and were soon on terms.
Just five minutes had passed when United won a corner on the left and Vidic arrived powerfully at the far post to nod beyond Vito Mannone and pull United level.
Suddenly, the visitors seemed to be in the ascendancy, but as has happened too many times already this season, suddenly the momentum switched completely. Poyet threw on Adam Johnson and the former Manchester City player made an impact almost immediately, running past Cleverley and into the box before going down under pressure.
Referee Andre Marriner initially seemed dubious that any infraction had been committed, but the linesman flagged for a foul and the penalty was duly awarded.
United’s players protested the decision vociferously—Rafael picking up a yellow card in the process for dissent—but the delay did not seem to affect Borini as he sent David de Gea the wrong way and fired into the roof of the net.
That set up a frantic final 25 minutes, but as United tried to find a rhythm in attack, Sunderland grew in resolve and organisation in defence. Alonso was impressive alongside United old boys John O’Shea and Wes Brown, frustrating United’s attackers in turn as they eventually held on for an impressive result.
As throughout the 90 minutes, it was Januzaj—who made his career breakthrough with two goals on the same ground earlier in the season—who looked the most threatening, but the youngster's finishing touch tended to let him down at crucial moments.
Indeed, the main point of controversy seemed to surround Rafael, who was perhaps lucky not to pick up a second yellow card after wiping out Borini soon after the goal.
"I don’t think there were too many chances," Poyet noted afterwards. "It was very tight, but that’s football nowadays. A decision can go your way...I’m so pleased [with Johnson’s impact]. He changed the game.
"We now have the chance to go to Old Trafford with an extra motivation."
It is only half-time in the tie, but David Moyes will continue to worry how to get this faltering Manchester United side back on course.
|Sunderland Player Ratings|
|Manchester United Player Ratings|
|David De Gea||6|
|Rafael da Silva||5|
The second leg at Old Trafford is on Wednesday, January 22. Before that Manchester United have two league fixtures—against Swansea at home on Saturday, then away to Chelsea the following Sunday. Meanwhile, Sunderland will be eager to pick up some points against Fulham (at home) and Southampton (away).
All quotes obtained via Sky Sports' live broadcast of the match.