On Saturday 25th January, I went to the Etihad Stadium to watch Manchester City play Watford in the FA Cup 4th Round.
It was the FA Cup fourth round and for me this trip to Manchester was the first of a double bill of cup fixtures this weekend. It also marked my fourth visit to watch City play at the Etihad Stadium, with my last coming just over a year ago when I witnessed a 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa in the Premiership. The prospect of watching one of the greatest teams in the world play live is always an exciting one, so when the opportunity arose again for this afternoon’s fixture against Watford I jumped at the chance.
City’s FA Cup form in recent times has been excellent. Two finals in three years had seen them lift the trophy in 2011 before a shock defeat to Wigan in last years final, so there was no doubt that they still take the world’s oldest football competition very seriously.
Following a trophyless 2012-13 campaign, City still remained in all four competitions this season and were targeting an historic quadruple. Standing in their way were today’s opposition Watford of the Championship, who had beaten Bristol City to reach this stage. The two sides had met in Round 3 of last year’s FA Cup in a game that City ran out comfortable 3-0 victors and the home side will have been hoping for a repeat of that this afternoon.
After the simple train journey from Sheffield to Manchester, our walk towards the Etihad Stadium was accompanied by heavy rain – “typical Manchester weather” as someone nearby commented! Upon arrival we headed to the City store in search of some shelter, before having a wander around the stadium and also having a look around an exhibition showing the club’s impressive-looking plans to expand the stadium. With kick off fast approaching, we then headed through the turnstiles and took up our position in the top tier of the East Stand.
The Etihad Stadium, home to the blue half of Manchester since 2003, has become a real fortress with no English side beating City at the ground this season so far. However, this incredible form looked to be in danger as the lower league side came out firing and romped into a 2-0 lead.
Despite what was seen on paper as a rather large gulf in class between the two sides, it was not at all visible in the first half. In fact Watford were in the ascendancy for much of the first 45 minutes, defending solidly to keep early City attacks at bay before charging forward themselves.
It took 20 minutes for the deadlock to be broken as Fernando Forestieri stunned the Etihad crowd. A neat move left the Argentine forward charging down on goal and he comfortably slotted the ball past Costel Pantilimon to put the visitors ahead.
And nine minutes later it was 2-0 to the Hornets. Some woeful defending from the home side ended up with Troy Deeney one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The 25 year old striker kept his cool to poke the ball through the legs of Pantilimon to send the travelling support ecstatic.
It remained 2-0 to Watford until half time and despite the scoreline, you still got the feeling that free-scoring City would somehow carve out a result in the second half. And that is exactly what happened.
Clearly desperate to stay in the cup, the Premiership side came out in the second period with far more energy than they had showed in the first and immediately went in search of goals. It took 14 minutes of the second period for the home side to pull a goal back courtesy of Sergio Aguero. Aleksandar Kolarov’s low cross was met by Edin Dzeko and despite the goalkeeper saving the effort, he couldn’t keep out the rebound as Aguero fired home to make it 1-2.
With 12 minutes of normal time to go the game was all square once again. It was Aguero who found the net, receiving the ball on the edge of the area and picking his spot in the top corner with a wonderful strike.
In the 86th minute, Kolarov fired a hopeful shot from distance but Watford ‘keeper Jonathan Bond somehow let it slip through his hands and into the back of the net. It was a cruel moment for Watford who had battled admirably and probably deserved a replay with their performance, but it wasn’t to be for the Hornets.
Watford almost snatched an equaliser in the dying moments when Ikechi Anya charged forward on goal, but he couldn’t keep his strike down. Instead it was City who found the net again in stoppage time as Aguero completed his hat trick. Jesus Navas’ cross found the Argentine at the far post and he nodded the ball past Bond to secure his sides place in the fifth round.
It was an entertaining afternoon at the Etihad Stadium. Watford had given a performance that their supporters could be proud of and were unlucky not to come away with more. However, in the end City’s incredible quality had shown through as they moved one step closer to a third FA Cup final in four years.
Manchester City 4–2 Watford
Forestieri ’20, Deeney ’29, Aguero ’59 ’78 ’90, Kolarov ’86
Pantilimon, Richards (Zabaleta ’46), Kolarov, Toure, Demichelis, Lescott, Navas, Rodwell (Kompany ’46), Aguero, Dzeko, Lopes (Jovetic ’57)
Bond, Faraoni (Fabbrini ’85), Pudil, Angella, Ekstrand, Doyley, Battocchio, Marray (Abdi ’75), Deeney, Forestieri (Ccassetti ’60), Anya