SUNDERLAND (AFP) - Manchester United manager David Moyes claimed that his side were being unfairly treated by referees after they slumped to defeat at Sunderland in their League Cup semi-final first leg.
A second-half penalty from on-loan Liverpool forward Fabio Borini gave the home side a 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday, Jan 7, 2014, and condemned United to three consecutive defeats for the first time in 13 years.
Moyes had previously seen his team lose by the same scoreline at home to Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City in the past week, leaving United 11 points off the pace in the Premier League and out of the FA Cup.
The Scot was angry with referee Andre Marriner for awarding a free-kick against Jonny Evans in the build-up to Sunderland's opener, which saw Ryan Giggs turn the ball into his own net in first-half stoppage time.
"We defended a terrible free-kick, but how the referee has given a free-kick for that is way beyond me," Moyes said.
"I just cannot see how that is a free-kick." Nemanja Vidic equalised for United early in the second half, only for Marriner to award Sunderland a penalty after Tom Cleverley was adjudged to have impeded home substitute Adam Johnson.
Again, Moyes was unimpressed by the decision.
"We are all just laughing at them at the minute," he said.
"It looks as though we are having to play them (officials) as well as the opposition at the moment."
With their league title defence on the rocks, the return leg on Jan 22 may represent Moyes's only chance of salvaging a domestic trophy from his maiden campaign.
As if to illustrate the heights from which the club have slipped this season, Moyes's predecessor Alex Ferguson was present at the Stadium of Light, along with club greats Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson.
However, when asked if he felt under pressure to reach the final, Moyes replied: "None whatsoever.
"This is a two-legged game and I'm actually really looking forward to this second leg now."
Moyes drew encouragement from the performance of winger Adnan Januzaj, who tormented Sunderland throughout with his direct running and came close to snatching a late equaliser on three occasions.
"We'll do everything we can to try and get it right," Moyes said.
"The players put in a strong performance tonight (Tuesday), it just didn't quite come off. But it's not far away and it's coming, I can sense it.
"You just need to look at the performance of Adnan Januzaj tonight. He was terrific. He put in a great job and played really well."
Having eliminated Chelsea in the previous round, Sunderland remain on course to reach a first domestic cup final since 1992, when they lost to Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
"It would be massive (to reach the final)," manager Gus Poyet told Sky Sports.
"You don't get there too many times. It's many, many years from the last one, so we will try our best."
Poyet also heralded the contribution of Johnson, who added verve to the home side's play after being sent on in the 56th minute.
"I'm so pleased," said the Uruguayan. "Today, he made my day because we were desperate for him to do well. Today, he changed the game for us."
However, with Sunderland still bottom of the Premier League table, Poyet expressed hope that their impressive cup form would translate into improved performances in the league.
"That is something I need to find out, why we are capable somehow of beating top teams and being so clinical in the cup, and we cannot do the same in the league," he said.
"I need to find the reason because if not, something is happening, it's mental. But I need to find that reason."