IF there is a good time for Manchester United to perform in the Capital One Cup, this is it. Dumped out of the FA Cup by Swansea City on Sunday after a fifth home defeat of the season and a Premier League title push looks unlikely in David Moyes’ first year in charge.
Things could get worse before they get better for Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor and Wes Brown, a boyhood Red and a defender boasting 12 trophy successes during a 15-year senior career with the club, must try to pile further misery on Moyes.
Fans’ frustrations are growing around Old Trafford and those would only heighten if they were to lose to Sunderland over two-legs in the fortnight and miss out on a Wembley date.
But Brown does not think Moyes should be held solely responsible for Manchester United’s problems so far this season. Instead he thinks patience was always going to be required after Ferguson’s retirement.
“I don't really know what's been going on there but they won't be happy with results so far,” said Brown. “They are used to being top three all of the time. They won the Premier League last season and would be expecting to win it again this year.
“But a lot has changed and it is maybe taking a bit more time. Personally, I feel whoever had gone in (to replace Sir Alex) it would have been the same.
"I feel sure United will turn it around but I would say that, wouldn't I? But right now, I would have thought they would be hurting, not being up there with the top teams.
“Many of them have won so many things and their pride will have been dented. I am sure they all believe that if they carry on giving 100 per cent, it will all come together but until then, they have got to stick together.”
Due to his long-standing problem with injuries since leaving Manchester in July 2011, Brown has only faced his former club once. It was not a particularly happy return either, as he scored an own goal to gift United a 1-0 win on November 5 that year.
For that reason he is looking forward to facing a number of his former team-mates tonight and he is expecting Moyes to have them up for a fixture which could lead to the ex-Everton boss winning a trophy at the end of his first season in charge.
“They will want to win the cup just as much as us,” said Brown. “But it should give us more confidence that United are not having one of their best seasons and that is something we have to take advantage of. Make no mistake, however, they will be just as hungry as us. They want a trophy.
“In all my years there, to be honest I can't remember us losing too many semi-finals. We had a pretty good record once we reached the later stages.
“We were favourites in most of them and I can't recall us losing one to an underdog. United are pretty much up there with the best teams when it comes to reaching cup finals so we are under no illusions. It's a tough ask.”
There are problems and there are problems. Manchester United’s problems might be different to Sunderland’s but Brown is well aware of the need for him and his team-mates to get the Wearside club’s house in order too.
While cup football has brought some light relief this season, sitting at the foot of the Premier League has brought significant concerns at the start of 2014. The experienced defender is well aware of the need to follow up progress in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup with improved league form.
“This game is massive,” said Brown. “Someone asked me the other day which I would rather do - win the cup or stay up. Personally speaking I would rather stay up because I've been fortunate to win a few things but we are in the semi-finals now and I'm desperate to win.
“It would be massive for this club to reach Wembley and give the fans a cup final. They would love it. Memories of the 1973 FA Cup success here are all over the place. Even at the training ground, there are photos down every corridor. It just shows you what it can all mean for the club. It would be great to do it again.
"We’re 100 per cent in the cups this season. I can't really put my finger on why we are doing better in the cups than the league. Maybe it is just that cup spirit. If we can take that into the league games, it would be perfect for us but right now, it's the cup that occupies the mind.”
Brown returned to the side after a three-match suspension to help Sunderland to a 3-1 victory over Carlisle United on Sunday. He is also desperate to play tonight, despite the tiny recovery period for a player with such horrible injury problems in recent years.
“Bring it on. I was sore on Sunday night but it's all about looking ahead to the next game now and it's certainly one I don't want to miss,” he said. “Since I have been here, I have only played against United just the once due to injuries. “We just have to go in to this game determined to build on Sunday and then that could have a knock-on effect on our league form. We can't afford to let our heads drop at any point.
“We need to keep confidence intact. We have to show commitment on the pitch and show we really want it. I know we keep saying it, but I can think of many times we should have nicked a goal here and there and that is not just down to one or two players.
“There is no point feeling down about it because there is still half a season to go. In the league, we are in a bad position and need to sort it out. We have shown signs of improvement only to get kicked again. We have to keep believing.
"We have the first leg at home and it is not one of those when you feel you can get a draw and then sneak a win at Old Trafford. We are looking to win this one and if we do that, then we can set our tactics for the return.”