Cheltenham Town 1, Manchester City 3 (FA Cup 4th Round)
Cheltenham Town were nine minutes from a massive FA Cup shock before Manchester City powered past the League Two side late on.Embed from Getty Images
Alfie May’s 59th minute strike had put Michael Duff’s League Two side into a shock lead against a pedestrian second string City side at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Pep Guardiola had to bring on the big guns in Ruben Dias, Ilkay Gundogan, and Joao Cancelo to turn the result around through late goals by the superb Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus, and Ferran Torres.
The win – the 11th consecutive one for City – meant that City would go through to the 5th Round for the sixth successive season and will travel to Swansea after the high flying Championship side thrashed an inconsistent Nottingham Forest 5-1 today.
Foden was the only survivor from City’s 2-0 midweek win over Aston Villa and will have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders after Kevin De Bruyne was ruled out for 4-6 weeks.
Guardiola hinted that youngsters would be fielded today and he duly named academy stars Tommy Doyle and Taylor Harwood-Bellis in the side.
They were joined by fit-again Aymeric Laporte who had been out for a month with injury who partnered Eric Garcia who was also coming back from a COVID layoff.
The City bench was loaded with talent, though, with Ederson, Ruben Dias, Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, and Joao Cancelo alongside Adrian Bernabe.
Despite the reasonably strong starting lineup City’s first half build up was slow and predictable for the Robins who were well prepared for the switches of play by the visitors.
There were flashes of talent for City, but they arrived only intermittently for the second string side put out by Guardiola – many of whom hadn’t played much recently for COVID or injury reasons.
Within 25 seconds Gabriel Jesus had an attempted lob tipped away by goalkeeper Josh Griffiths.
And Zack Steffen was also in the action after barely a minute, beating Alfie May to a cross with the striker sliding in the hoardings as he tried to meet a right wing cross.
Griffiths saved from Laporte’s header while Ben Tozer cleared off the line with his head to prevent a fierce shot from Benjamin Mendy from going in during the first 12 minutes.
Griffiths also denied Torres after 18 minutes with a low save from 9 yards out after Foden had cut the ball back for the winger from the left.
Jesus headed wide from Mahrez’ right wing cross while May was sent through by Finn Azaz and saw his off target shot saved by Steffen.
Foden and Fernandinho shot wide while Mahrez shot straight at Griffiths from outside the area with City struggling to create good quality chances.
Both teams were brought off as fireworks were set off just outside the ground in the 41st minute – giving a chance for both sides to have a tactical update.
There were 6 minutes of stoppage time after the firework display and Tozer had the first opportunity to try a long throw into the City area which was pushed out of play by Steffen for a corner and subsequently cleared by the visitors who made it to half time having a cutback by Doyle cut out by Tozer for a corner.
Manchester City leave it late to beat League Two Cheltenham Town
City switched Torres to a wider right berth with Mahrez going more central after the restart – and Foden put Jesus through in the 53rd minute but the Brazilian rolled the ball wide with just Griffiths to beat.
It was the kind of miss that City might come to regret in a cup game, and City’s worst fears looked set to manifest soon afterwards.
Tozer, who had been an all action man for the hosts, put through another long throw which allowed Alfie May to stab in the loose ball from 3 yards out after the ball wasn’t cleared by City in the 59th minute.
It was the first goal that City had conceded in 509 minutes since Callum Hudson-Odoi’s strike for Chelsea at the start of January.
Tozer blocked another crossing chance for Torres as City continued to be frustrated by the Robins.
Ruben Dias and Ilkay Gundogan were brought on for Harwood-Bellis and Doyle in the 68th minute as City reshuffled again.
Gundogan’s subsequent free kick went wide while Mahrez was denied by a Griffiths save and there was more action on the City bench.
Joao Cancelo replaced the ineffective Benjamin Mendy with 13 minutes to go and Foden crucially pushed upfield.
Azaz had to go off with cramp as Cheltenham tired and City’s superior fitness coupled with the arrival of Cancelo finally paid off for City.
Foden volleyed City back on par from 4 yards out with his 9th goal of the season with 9 minutes to go after Cancelo’s cross found him at the back post.
The young England man, who may have to shoulder the mantle of the missing De Bruyne, was finally getting some end result from his work.
Jesus put City ahead exactly three minutes later from 7 yards out after neatly bringing down Fernandinho’s long pass into the area – only his 5th goal of the season and his second in his last 13 City games.
The home defenders furiously appealed for offside to no avail – there was no VAR in operation here.
The Robins had to attack and had a great chance to when Matty Blair blazed over when Laporte’s half cleared header reached him after a Chris Clements corner.
But the next goal was City’s and deep into injury time Torres made the result safe when Gundogan cut the ball back for the Spanish winger to thump the ball into the empty net from 8 yards – his 8th goal of the season.
GOALS – Cheltenham Town 1, Manchester City 3 (FA Cup 4th Round)
Cheltenham Town 1, Man City 0: 59. Alfie May reacted first to the loose ball to stab it home from 3 yards out after City failed to clear Ben Tozer’s long throw.
Cheltenham Town 1, Man City 1: 81. Phil Foden volleyed City back on terms from 4 yards out after meeting Joao Cancelo’s right wing cross.
Cheltenham Town 1, Man City 2: 84. Gabriel Jesus brought down Fernandinho’s pass into the box, turned, and put City ahead from 7 yards out.
Cheltenham Town 1, Man City 3: 90+4. Ferran Torres drove Ilkay Gundogan’s cut back into an empty net to make the result safe right at the end.
MATCH STATS – Cheltenham Town 1, Manchester City 3
Cheltenham Town: Griffiths, Raglan, Tozer, Boyle, Blair, Azaz (Williams 81), Thomas, Clements (Addai 89), Freestone, May, Lloyd (Long 69)
Cheltenham Town Subs not used: Flinders, Bowry, Harris, Ebanks
Bookings: Boyle 24 (foul on Tommy Doyle), Raglan 48 (foul on Gabriel Jesus); Tozer 85 (dissent)
Goal: May 59
Man City: Steffen, Harwood-Bellis (Dias 68), Garcia, Laporte, Mendy (Cancelo 77), Doyle (Gundogan 68), Fernandinho, Foden, Mahrez, Jesus, Torres
Man City subs not used: Ederson, Sterling, Zinchenko, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Bernabe
Bookings: Laporte 60 (dissent)
Goals: Foden 81; Jesus 84; Torres 90+4
Referee: Stuart Attwell