MAN CITY 2, SHEFF WED 1
Birthday boy James Milner came to Manchester City’s rescue as they scraped past Sheffield Wednesday into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The stand-in striker, who was celebrating his 29th birthday, scored both goals as City came from behind to snatch victory in stoppage time.
Austrian Atdhe Nuhiu had given the Championship club a first-half lead as City produced a laboured display and a contrast to little over three months earlier when they blitzed Wednesday 7-0 in the Capital One Cup at the Eitihad Stadium.
It was not until City brought on David Silva and Samir Nasri for the final half hour that it belatedly sparked them to life.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted his side was well below par declaring: “I am relieved because we did not play well. We played badly except for the last 20 minutes when we upped a gear against a team which defended very well.
“When you are one goal down, it is doubly difficult. We did not play as well as normal offensively until Silva, Nasri and Milner came together and we scored two goals.”
Pellegrini added he was pleased for Milner saying he is a player who always gives 100-per-cent in terms of intensity and commitment.
And City’s manager admitted that he did not expect a repeat of the earlier seven-goal victory. He continued: “I said before 7-0 was not what really happened as it was goalless at half time.
“I did not expect an easy time as they are improving in the Championship and came here on the back of a good victory against Wigan.”
Wednesday manager Stuart Gray said: “I am proud of my players who pushed the champions to the last minute and I thought we would get a replay.
“I am disappointed we didn’t see out the game but, after losing 7-0, we can take a lot of confidence from the game. we need to show the same commitment, intensity and work rate in our league games.”
City had made six changes from the side which beat Sunderland on New Year’s Day, but were still able to bring in players of the quality of Frank Lampard, Milner and Fernando Reges.
After a quiet opening, Wednesday stole ahead after 14 minutes through 6ft 6in Nuhiu, a former Austrian under-21 international who was born in Kosovo. Stevie May cut the ball back from the right to Nuhiu who shot low to the left of keeper Willy Caballero from the edge of the box.
City struggled to create clear-cut chances as Jesus Navas blazed over while Yaya Toure and Lampard fired wide.
The start to the second half followed the same pattern as City laboured and were failing to create any meaningful openings.
Something was needed to inject a spark and shortly after the hour mark Silva and Nasri were summoned from the bench as they replaced Lampard and Stevan Jovetic.
And the two substitutes combined to set up City’s equaliser midway through the half when Milner fired through the legs of keeper Chris Kirkland from a tight angle.
Kirkland pulled off a great save to deny Silva in the 90th minute, but could not do anything to prevent City’s winner in the first of four minutes of added time. Navas squared the ball from the right and Silva flicked the ball into the path of Milner knocked in the ball from a couple of yards, his second goal of the game and third of the season.