Sunderland v Manchester United: five talking points | Simon Burnton

The empty seats for a League Cup semi-final at the Stadium of Light told their own story and if it's any consolation to David Moyes, Alex Ferguson's first-leg record wasn't great either

1 United limp into first legs

Given his record at Old Trafford, the search for anything of significance that Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't very good at would be long, fruitless and bedevilled throughout by a faint stench of absurdity, but the fact is that he had an unusually poor record in the first leg of League Cup semi-finals. He failed to win any of his last five, a sequence that featured defeats by a single goal at Derby and Manchester City, a draw at Chelsea, and home and away stalemates against Blackburn. On four of those occasions United did well enough in the second leg to reach the final, and on three occasions they won the trophy. Bad as the result was, this might be the first occasion when David Moyes's United side have been worthy of comparison with the teams of his brilliant predecessor.

2 Too much of a good thing

This may be the least prestigious of England's three major trophies, but a semi-final remains a significant match, and unlike their opponents Sunderland have not had the privilege of becoming accustomed to such occasions. So the number of empty seats at the Stadium of Light – 17,453 of them, to judge from the official attendance – was interesting, if far from inexplicable. The Black Cats are in the middle of a two-month feast of home games, and this was the third of 2014, on the seventh day of the year. The FA Cup fourth-round tie against Kidderminster or Peterborough will be their seventh home fixture of the season in domestic knockout competitions, while the second leg of this tie will be their first away. The club's pricing has been enlightened – adults paid £20 to get in here, and £10 when Carlisle visited on Sunday – but it turns out that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. The television cameras, and the fact that they had lost 16 and drawn four of their last 20 games against these opponents can't have helped.

3 Moyes goes for a song

Ryan Giggs was feared by the blues and loved by the reds; Roy Keane wore a magic hat; Gary Neville hated scousers. Manchester United's fans once had an armoury of the finest and filthiest songs in English football, but are they now – as Swansea's Jonathan de Guzman suggested on the weekend – prone to "turning their backs" on their team? Though away fans can nearly always be relied upon to outperform those they leave at home, it would seem not – but the surprise here was the identity of the individual they focused on. "Every single one of us will stand by David Moyes," they chorused. It is to their credit that they have yet to write a verse that pairs Moyes's name with the word "out".

4 Januzaj's bright night

At the end of September Adnan Januzaj was just another promising youth-team graduate, trying to make his name at first-team level. On the fifth day of October Roy Hodgson admitted England had joined battle with "Belgium, Albania, Croatia and a few others as well" for his international future. In between came his only previous visit to the Stadium of Light, when on the occasion of his first competitive start he scored twice and encouraged Moyes to call him "a special player". The game seemed to have lingered in the memory, both of Januzaj, who was again United's best player and their most consistent goal threat, and his opponents. Phil Bardsley seemed to have been instructed to keep an eye on him, and quite often a leg too, or an elbow too, until a booking inevitably arrived in the second half. There will be few better performances in defeat this season.

5 Johnson's big impact

The semi-final was transformed by the arrival in the second half of an often underappreciated English winger who had a productive spell at Watford and isn't shy of tumbling in the opposition area if he perceives the vaguest sniff of a penalty. Sadly Ashley Young was unavailable because of a shoulder injury – and given recent controversies even he may have thought twice about the tumble that led to Sunderland's first-leg winner – but Adam Johnson played his part to perfection. United, incidentally, had on their bench the most prolific penalty-winner in England last season, but with rumours rife of an imminent loan move, Wilfried Zaha once again remained idle. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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