OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER—Manchester United's hopes of silverware this season effectively ended at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Out of the Premier League title race, out of the FA Cup and long shots to lift the Champions League, David Moyes' side were knocked out of the Capital One Cup on penalties by struggling Sunderland.
It was another damaging blow for United's new manager, who is running out of opportunities to save his first season in charge.
They might have been dumped out on penalties, but in truth Manchester United were lucky to get that far.
They gave a poor performance against a side who are battling against relegation in the league.
After Jonny Evans' first-half goal put United ahead in the tie, they didn't create enough chances to force a second goal that would have killed off Sunderland.
And ultimately they paid the price, conceding in the final minute of extra time. They were lucky to force penalties after Javier Hernandez's late equaliser.
Penalty shootouts are a lottery, but confidence plays a big part.
And for four Manchester United players—Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Adnan Januzaj and Rafael—to miss from the spot highlights a lack of confidence that has affected the team all season.
United are not playing well and going through a poor run of results, and it's bound to affect the players' confidence.
Unfortunately for David Moyes, that manifested itself in a botched penalty shootout against Sunderland and an early exit from another competition.
In the last two games at Old Trafford—against Swansea and Sunderland—Shinji Kagawa has started on the left and then been moved into the hole behind the striker.
On both occasions, United looked far more balanced with Kagawa playing centrally, which begs the question: Why is he still starting games on the left?
What was harder to understand was Moyes' decision to withdraw him after just an hour.
He was the one player who looked like he might be able to break Sunderland down, and United created very little after he went off before Javier Hernandez's late goal.
Javier Hernandez is a wonderful finisher, and there are few better to throw on late in the game if you need to grab a goal.
He was in the right place at the right time to score United's vital second against Sunderland to force penalties, but otherwise he had a poor game.
He's a poacher, and when United don't play with out-and-out wingers who want to get to the byline and cross the ball into the box, he struggles to get the service he needs.
He's not technically good enough to hold the ball up and bring others into the game, and he never managed to relieve the pressure against Sunderland by making the ball stick and letting United's defenders push out.
Sunderland, struggling in the Premier League, were always going to look to capitalise on chances to put the ball into United's penalty area, and they were allowed to do it more times than they should have been.
Moyes has instructed United to defend corners with every man back in the penalty area, which means they struggle to get out once the first ball has been cleared.
With no one upfield to hold up the ball or even challenge for it, United are forced to defend the corner and then another ball into the box in the second phase of play.
It puts United's defenders under unnecessary pressure and gives opposing teams a free chance to attack.
The Capital One Cup offered David Moyes a chance to add some gloss to an otherwise disappointing season.
Lifting the trophy at Wembley, especially at Manchester City's expense, would have changed how his first season would have been viewed.
But it ended as another missed opportunity.
United are still in the Champions League, but few expect them to win it. It leaves Moyes with just the league to salvage some respectability.
Transition or not, if United finish seventh in the Premier League this season, Moyes' first year can only be treated as a spectacular disaster.