It has been a restrictive force this season and last night supporters were made to hold their breath as Manchester United stumbled once more, this time while trying to make their way into the final of the Capital One Cup. Instead it was Sunderland who puffed out their cheeks, after winning the second leg of their semi-final 2-1 on penalties.
Goals from Jonny Evans, Javier Hernandez and Phil Bardsley would extend the tie - which Sunderland had led 1-0 after the first leg - to a shootout, only for both clubs to seemingly forget to load.
Darren Fletcher was the only one of United's penalty takers to find the net, while Ki Sung Yueng and Bardsley accounted for the two that were converted by the visitors. Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Craig Gardner, Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson were all among those who suffered the ignominy of missing from the spot.
It is a feeling which has come to be uncomfortably familiar to United. Supporters had been invited to look towards some belated relief with the news that the Old Trafford club are close to completing a £40m deal to sign Chelsea forward Juan Mata. The Spaniard is a diminutive figure, but he will have to develop some pretty broad shoulders to bear the expectation that will likely be placed on him.
Last night that was left to Adnan Januzaj. The United youngster still looks barely old enough to have started shaving, but last night he was subjected to the sort of experience which can age a player.
United started with purpose, only to get bogged down quickly, as they have done so often this season. Neither Wayne Rooney nor Robin van Persie were around to help - having been ruled out through injury - and Sunderland were not in the mood to be cowed.
They were at least beaten back after 37 minutes. Fletcher had prodded a shot against a post and Vito Mannone denied Danny Welbeck with the rebound, with Januzaj curling over another corner. Welbeck met it but could not divert the ball on target but Evans stole in to finish at the far post.
It was a goal which brought extra time, but little relief for the home side. Alexander Buttner had to come to the rescue with a brave block when Johnson swivelled on to Fabio Borini's cross and went for goal. Marcos Alonso then sent a volley fizzing past David de Gea's goal.
The United goalkeeper looked accusingly at his defence. They would then return the favour when the Spaniard failed to stop a low shot from Bardsley, which deflected off the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net.
Although Hernandez struck back almost immediately, United's fragile confidence was not strong enough to carry them through a penalty shootout. They looked on as Johnson was thwarted with a kick which would have decided it. Then Mannone put them through with a save.