(CNN) -- It was a penalty shootout that summed up Manchester United's season -- errant, careless and ultimately forlorn.
This was the team that have dominated English football for years, one of the biggest on the planet.
Yet here they were, slugging it out from the penalty spot with lowly Sunderland in the semifinal of the English League Cup, with a place at Wembley at stake.
Usually so composed in pressure situations, United's players blinked, four of them missing from 12 yards out as this interminable season took another turn for the worse.
Since Sunderland last won silverware in 1973, Manchester United have won 25 domestic trophies, but before the end of January the only competition they are still in with a realistic chance of winning is the European Champions League.
Yet the man who presided over the majority of those 25 trophies -- Alex Ferguson -- has gone and the man who had replaced him is looking more beleaguered by the day.
David Moyes trudged off the field as Sunderland players swarmed around their goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who saved the penalty that sent them to the final of England's second most prestigious cup competition.
They will now face Manchester CIty in the final on March 2 while United, and Moyes especially, will face more intense questioning about the direction his club is going in.
"Criticism is fair if you don't win at this football club," Moyes told Sky Sports after the game.
"Credit to Sunderland -- they played well and we didn't. We've played well in a lot of games this season and not got the rewards but we didn't deserve any rewards tonight.
"When we had the chances to get a second goal we didn't finish it off. I've got no problem them getting through -- they deserved it."
In the end, United were fortunate to force the game into penalties after goalkeeper David De Gea fumbled a shot from Phil Bardsley into the net -- a gaffe that appeared to have handed Sunderland victory in the final seconds of the game.
Luckily for the Spanish keeper, just 60 seconds later a dramatic goal from Javier Hernandez with practically the last kick of the match gave United one last shot at redemption. One which they couldn't take.
Of De Gea's mistake Moyes said: "David's been really good this season. People do make mistakes but it was a costly one. That's football and that's the way it is just now."
Of the four missed penalties from his side Moyes simply added: "That was poor. I would expect better."
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, United took the lead on 37 minutes through Jonny Evans to level the scores on aggregate. But with no more goals at the end of 90 minutes the match went into extra time.
Knowing they needed to score to go through Sunderland piled men forward in search of a winner but no-one at Old Trafford could have been prepared for the tumult that was to come.
Phil Bardsley, who spent five years as a Manchester United player, fired in a low shot from outside the box that De Gea found too hot to handle.
As Sunderland's players celebrated in front of their 9,000 traveling fans, Moyes rolled his eyes as the prospect of a Wembley final ebbed away.
But just over 60 seconds later it was United's fans celebrating as Hernandez turned in a cross to lock the scores up on aggregate and send the tie to penalties.
With the tension around the stadium palpable, the first three players to take spot kicks missed, before Darren Fletcher put Manchester United 1-0 up.
But that was the only success United would register from 12 yards as successful penalties from Marcos Alonso and Ki Sung-Yueng put Sunderland 2-1 in front, either side of an Adnan Januzaj miss.
Phil Jones was the next player to go wide, ballooning his effort over the bar, before Sunderland's Adam Johnson squandered the opportunity to settle the tie.
All of which meant Rafael had to score to keep United in the match, but his spot kick was saved by Mannone, sparking wild scenes of celebration from the visitors.
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, who is battling to keep his side in the Premier League, told Sky Sports: "This feeling is for the fans. It has been a difficult season but look at them now, this is for them.
"To have a day of football like today is great for everybody and great for football. It is a great story -- let's see if we can go one better.
"The things that happened today were incredible but the players were outstanding, they are trying hard to learn so credit to them."