As David Bentley's misdirected penalty skidded across the surface of the Wembley pitch, a little more than just the last chance of a trophy this season went west for Tottenham Hotspur.
For even presuming the grim fight for Premier League survival is successful, what of next year?
What will happen when Harry Redknapp, the manager, is trying to sell his club to a player with alternatives in the summer?
How will Tottenham market themselves, now the last indication that the club are moving forward has been stripped away?
Steady decline has been Tottenham's lot for a while now.
The club had a difficult time last season, too, starting badly, changing managers in haste and emitting all the signals of a club in disorder.
Then Juande Ramos won the Carling Cup against Chelsea
and everything changed.
Suddenly, Tottenham were painted as upwardly mobile again.
They were to be in Europe with a fancy new Spanish manager; they were still a successful proposition.
When Newcastle United started sniffing around Luka Modric, the best player in a Croatia team that had tormented England in European Championship qualification, Tottenham came in and blew them out of the water, with potential as much as superior financial inducement.
Manchester United v Tottenham: Carling Cup final as it happened
The iPod hero! Foster watches Spurs on video moments before shoot-out glory
After this result, however, money and the lure of London are the only cards in Tottenham's deck.
No Europe, no progress and two seasons spent fighting relegation have taken a toll on their standing.
Sunday's penalty shootout suggests they are a nearly club, but it is worse than that.
Had Tottenham continued on the trajectory set out by Martin Jol two years ago, they would perhaps be where Aston Villa
Bentley sends his spot-kick woefully wide in the Carling Cup Final
Remember those days, when a near miss for Tottenham was not a penalty shootout against Manchester United casuals in the least-regarded competition this side of the UEFA Cup, but a point or two adrift of the Champions League on the last day of the season?
The nearly clubs have been waiting for Arsenal to slip up for some time, but now they have Tottenham are in no position to take advantage.
There have been too many changes of direction, too many managers, too many
people directing football and directing it into a dead end, mainly.
Last season's Carling Cup allowed Tottenham to pretend that years of poor executive management had not left the club seriously weakened but, however narrow Sunday's defeat, this falsehood can now be laid to rest.
What Tottenham are surveying for the remainder of this season is a scrap against relegation with a manager so concerned for his prospects that he has viewed cup competition as an irritating distraction for much of the season.
Redknapp was worried by the FA Cup, contemptuous of the UEFA Cup and, if Tottenham made a fair fist of trying to win here, it was very much a last roll of the dice.
Redknapp will be cursing if, having come away empty-handed anyway, he has also lost central defender Michael Dawson, who went down injured in extra time, and Jonathan Woodgate, who pulled out with an achilles tendon injury before the game.