FA Cup Fourth Round
Saturday 25 January 2014, 15.00 KO
City: Pantilimon, Richards (Zabaleta 45), Demichelis, Lescott, Kolarov, Rodwell (Kompany 45), Toure (c), Lopes (Jovetic 57), Navas, Aguero, Dzeko
Unused: Hart, Nastasic, Clichy, Fernandinho
Goals: Aguero (59, 79, 90+3), Kolarov (86)
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the Match: Sergio Aguero
Manchester City survived a huge scare against Watford to keep their FA Cup hopes alive for this season. It was a game of two performances from the Blues, who were outplayed during the first 45 minutes, but dominant in the second.
It was the visitors who were asking all the early questions: Forestieri was felled by Toure on the edge of the box, but the resulting free kick was belted into Pantilimon’s man wall, before the Hornets should have had a penalty. A misunderstanding between the goalkeeper and Demichelis left Anya to get to the ball first, before he was clattered by Pantilimon, but the referee and his assistant were unmoved.
On 20 minutes, the inevitable happened and Watford opened the scoring. Forestieri made a great run in behind Demichelis and his pace took him away from the attention of the City defence. One-on-one with Pantilimon, he showed no nerves to place it into the bottom corner. It had been coming.
Worse for the Blues was that, a mere eight minutes later, the visitors had doubled their lead: It was an almost identical move on the opposite side after Toure and Rodwell had given the ball away in the middle. Deeney raced onto a through ball and tucked it past Pantilimon, leaving the hosts two goals down and in serious trouble of departing the competition with egg on their face.
Pellegrini played his hand at half time, bringing on Kompany and Zabaleta and changing the shape, pushing Toure further forward and Demichelis into midfield. The result was a completely different performance from the Blues, who were suddenly dominant. Kompany’s flicked header was just wide, Dzeko passed a shot into the hands of the goalkeeper, and Jovetic couldn’t get enough on a Kolarov cross.
The signs were there for the improvement and, just before the hour mark, the recovery was on. Kolarov fired a low cross into the box and Dzeko touched it towards goal. The goalkeeper, who blocked the effort, closed him down quickly but the rebound fell to Aguero. The Argentine was never going to miss the open goal.
Kompany almost unlocked the hard-working Watford defence, but he elected to square for Dzeko instead of taking on the left-footed shot. The Bosnian couldn’t sort his feet out and could only send a weak effort straight into the hands of the goalkeeper. He then tried to combine with Jovetic, but his return pass of a one-two on the edge of the area was just too heavy.
With just over ten minutes to play, the Blues pulled level. Dzeko knocked the ball through for Aguero to carry into the box and, after cutting back onto his left side, he curled a neat effort around the goalkeeper and into the top corner. It dragged the hosts kicking and screaming back into the game and they had 11 minutes to avoid a replay.
Football proved how cruel a game it can be with just four minutes left to play. With the Hornets close to securing a replay, an error from Bond effectively cost them the game. The goalkeeper had put in a strong performance, but a lapse in concentration meant that a speculative Kolarov effort from range slipped through his hands and straight through him, into the net.
In the first of four added minutes, Aguero added his third – for a perfect hat-trick. Navas did brilliantly to keep the ball alive on the right flank before digging out a cross to the back post, where the Argentine was waiting. He got up to head past Bond from a tight angle, to secure City’s place in Round Five.