Manchester United slumped to a third consecutive loss for the first time in nearly 13 years when Sunderland added to manager David Moyes' troubles by winning the first leg of their League Cup semifinal 2-1 on Tuesday.
The setback against the Premier League's last-place team completed a hat trick of 2-1 losses at the start of 2014 for Moyes, in his first season as Alex Ferguson's successor.
United, which won the Premier League by 11 points last season before Ferguson retired, trails leader Arsenal by 11 points after losing to Tottenham on New Year's Day.
And the FA Cup quest ended at the first hurdle on Sunday when Swansea won their third round meeting at Old Trafford.
"(The fans) know we are going through a difficult time," Moyes said. "They have probably never seen it as bad as this for a long time. But I am determined to put it right, I'm sure we will."
The Red Devils can still reach the League Cup final at Wembley if they overturn the deficit at Old Trafford on Jan 22.
Sunderland's victory was secured from the penalty spot in the 65th minute by Fabio Borini after United midfielder Tom Cleverley tripped Adam Johnson.
Sunderland took the lead when 40-year-old United veteran Ryan Giggs inadvertently bundled the ball into his own net just before halftime when under pressure from Phil Bardsley.
Nemanja Vidic headed United level seven minutes into the second half before — according to Moyes — United was thwarted by a poor decision by referee Andre Marriner in awarding the penalty.
"I feel we are having to play the opposition and the officials at this moment in time," Moyes said on United's in-house television station.
"Maybe I've got to understand that's what happens at Man United. But if we do, we certainly aren't getting much in our favor at this moment in time."
The outlook isn't completely bleak for the Scot, with his team still in the Champions League and facing Olympiakos in the round of 16 next month.
The 72-year-old Ferguson continues to loom large over his successor, watching at the Stadium of Light in his role as a United director on another miserable night for the club he managed for more than 26 trophy-laden years.