The Reds were just minutes away from booking a place in the Capital One Cup final when Bardsley struck a low shot at De Gea in the 119th minute and the ball slipped from the Spaniard’s grasp and trickled over the line.
Javier Hernandez momentarily rescued the tie for the Reds with a goal in added time of extra time, and De Gea went on to play his part in the subsequent shoot-out with two penalty saves, yet Sunderland still came away as 2-1 winners on spot-kicks and booked their place at Wembley in March.
"David has been fantastic," Fletcher told MUTV. "In the last 18 months I don’t think there has been a better goalkeeper around. He really has been fantastic. He’s been a shining light, one of the big positives of this season.
"He’s disappointed, as everyone is, but he will be fine and he will show what a top goalkeeper he is. He redeemed himself in the penalty shoot-out with two saves and we should have done better with our execution of the penalties.
"All goalkeepers make mistakes and it’s just unfortunate for David that it’s happened to him tonight. But he will be OK."