Manchester United manager David Moyes accepted that his side deserved nothing more after they were sensationally bundled out of the League Cup in the semi-finals by Premier League stragglers Sunderland.
Moyes was hoping to reach his first final as United manager, but after United beat Sunderland 2-1 at Old Trafford in Wednesday's second-leg match to leave the aggregate score 3-3, the visitors prevailed 2-1 in a penalty shoot-out.
United were 1-0 up on the night and within touching distance of the final when goalkeeper David de Gea allowed a shot from Sunderland full-back Phil Bardsley to squirm past him and into the net in the penultimate minute of extra time.
Javier Hernandez scrambled an equaliser almost immediately in a stunning conclusion to the extra period, but United were eliminated when Vito Mannone parried Rafael da Silva's penalty in the ensuing shoot-out.
Jonny Evans's first-half header had levelled the tie, but United were unable to seize the momentum thereafter, with Sunderland, the Premier League's second-bottom club, enjoying the majority of possession and matching United almost chance for chance.
"We didn't play well enough. If we were (to go through), we were going to stumble over the line," Moyes said.
"With a minute or so to go we were almost there. We had opportunities to score a second goal and put ourselves in a better position, but there is always going to be a loser in the semi-final and it was us."
United have already lost five times at home this season and have now been eliminated from cup competitions at Old Trafford twice in less than three weeks, having fallen to Swansea City in the FA Cup on 5 January.
Once again there was a palpable nervousness inside the ground, and when Moyes was asked whether the result was the heaviest blow of his nascent United tenure, he said: "Yeah. I think it is part and parcel of the game."
The penalty shoot-out made for particularly painful viewing, with Darren Fletcher the only United player to score as Sunderland won thanks to successful attempts from Marcos Alonso and Ki Sungyueng.
Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj, Phil Jones and Rafael all failed to convert from 12 yards, and Moyes admitted that his cast of penalty-takers would have been different had Hernandez and Michael Carrick not succumbed to injury.
"Ideally, it wouldn't have been the group we had chosen," said Moyes. "Javier would have taken a penalty but was injured and people like Michael Carrick would have been involved."
Black Cats purring
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet revealed that Mannone had been serenaded on his return to the changing room after parrying two of United's attempts at goal in the shoot-out.
"When Vito got into the dressing room, the whole squad and staff started singing his name and there is no better feeling for a football player," said the Uruguayan. "He was half happy, half embarrassed. It was a special night for him."
Sunderland, who last played in a major final in 1992, will face the might of Manchester City in the decider on 2 March, but they can take heart from their 1-0 victory over Manuel Pellegrini's side in November.
"What a task it is going to be there at Wembley. We will try," Poyet said. "We will need to play well, have a good day, be brave, be fit and they will have to not have a good day, because they have very good players.
"But if you want to win something, you need to be the best - you are not expecting to get to the final and play a bad game. So we will see."
British media reports suggest United will complete a club-record move for Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata on Thursday, but Moyes was unable to offer the club's fans any guarantees about the transfer.
Reporters at Old Trafford were told that Moyes would only answer questions about the game during his post-match press conference and when he was asked about Mata, he replied: "We are not saying anything."