By Josh Reich
Manchester United must shrug off the disappointment of their league title aspirations being all but ended if they are to retain hope of claiming domestic silverware in David Moyes’ troubled first season in the Old Trafford hot-seat.
Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Chelsea virtually extinguished their slim chances of retaining the Premier League crown and defeat by Swansea City in the FA Cup third round means the League Cup is United’s last chance of a major English trophy this season.
They meet Sunderland in Wednesday’s second leg after losing the first match 2-1 at the Stadium of Light, with the winners progressing to the final and an almost certain date with red-hot Manchester City in March.
The loss to Chelsea was the latest in a poor run of results for United who have slumped to seventh in the league, 14 points behind the leaders and six short of fourth spot and entry into next season’s Champions League.
Although the United supporters have continued to back Moyes in the face of very disappointing results, the Scot, who replaced Alex Ferguson this season, said a good performance at home was vital to boost spirits.
“We’re going to go out and do everything we can to get through,” he told the club’s website (www.manutd.com) after the Chelsea loss, their seventh in 22 league matches.
“I want to give the supporters something to cheer about.
“There’s not been an awful lot and I’m fully aware of that but I thought how we played on Sunday was not bad. The players played well but if you are going to defend the way we did then we are going to find it tough.”
United have suffered in the absence of strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, but other than 18-year-oldAdnan Januzaj the rest of the squad has largely failed to fill the void left by the absence of their two best players.
Rooney is nearing fitness after missing the last four matches with a groin injury, although no decision has been made on his participation against Sunderland, and United will definitely be without defender Nemanja Vidic, who will miss three matches after being sent off against Chelsea.
Sunderland snatched a first-leg advantage through Fabio Borini’s 65th-minute penalty, and Gus Poyet’s side came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Southampton on Saturday as they continue to fight for their top-flight lives.
Midfielder Craig Gardner said the battling draw was a boost as they bid for a place in the final.
“Every game is a big game now, there’s the semi-final, and although we’ve got the advantage it’s going to be a very tough game at Old Trafford,” he told Sunderland’s website (www.safc.com).
“We’ll go there knowing what we need to do and the players have got the confidence to go out and try and achieve that.”
The winners will almost certainly face a daunting clash with City in the final as they hold a 6-0 lead over West HamUnited from the first leg ahead of Tuesday night’s return match in London.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce acknowledged that overturning the deficit was unlikely, but said West Ham were determined to put in a good performance as they search for form and a way out of the Premier League relegation zone.
“It’s about playing a competitive game of football and trying to win it. We’re playing for pride and we want to play well,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can give Manchester City a really tough game tomorrow night.”
City have named Jack Rodwell and Stevan Jovetic in their squad as they return from injury layoffs.