The problem is, if Cheltenham had managed to hang on for those last ten minutes, you would not have been able to say it was undeserved.
Cup ties can never be taken lightly, especially against a team who genuinely place some nice football while also having a potent weapon from long throws. City took it lightly, and were very nearly knocked out because of it.
After Alfie May gave the League Two outfit a 59th minute lead, it looked like a truly monumental shock was on the cards. That was, until City’s best player Phil Foden ghosted in to equalise, with Gabriel Jesus and later Ferran Torres adding goals to see the away side through.
When Jesus was denied by Josh Griffiths inside 25 seconds from Riyad Mahrez’s wonderful through ball, you wondered if this would be over inside 20 minutes. Instead, City huffed and puffed while doing very little, while Cheltenham won numerous corners and freekicks to give themselves encouragement.
Naturally, City had chances. Benjamin Mendy’s powerful half volley was flying in before a quite miraculous goal line clearance from Ben Tozer deflected the ball over, while Torres was later denied from close range by Griffiths. Later, Foden sent a half chance just wide, but it was not nearly enough for a team of City’s quality.
Cheltenham could even have led at the break, but Alfie May’s shot at the near post following a long ball was well saved by Zack Steffen. The Robins would have gone in at half time with real belief that they could pull off a real shock.
Half time: Cheltenham Town 0-0 Manchester City
City started the second half better, with Foden again leading the charge. Just over five minutes in, his excellent through ball sent Jesus clean through on goal, but once again the striker showed his profligacy in striking the outside of the post rather than the back of the net.
Five minutes later, Cheltenham took the lead.
The throw-in routine finally paid dividends, with Tozer’s ball flicked on and smashed into the net from close range by May. Aymeric Laporte was booked for his reaction to the referee, claiming he had been fouled to prevent him heading the ball away.
In fairness, he had. But it was never going to be spotted by the referee, and Tommy Doyle should have reacted far better and cleared the ball before May’s decisive touch. Cupset well and truly on.
Pep Guardiola reacted by bringing on Ruben Dias for solidity, as well as the in-form pairing Ilkay Gundogan and Joao Cancelo. It would prove to be decisive, but City’s next chance once again was courtesy of Foden, as he again played a defence-splitting pass, this time to Mahrez.
Mahrez, having controlled the ball brilliantly, simply hammered the ball straight at Griffiths instead of placing it past him. It was a very poor attempt at a very important moment in the game.
Then, in the 81st minute, leveller.
A long ball was worked back out to Cancelo, who looked up and picked out the unmarked Foden to volley in at the back post. City had been dominant since the substitutions, but it was their first chance of any sort for 15 minutes.
As it turned out, there would not be long to wait for more chances to arrive.
Barely a minute later, Fernandinho picked out a sublime pass to Jesus in behind the defence. The Brazilian controlled beautifully, before spinning and driving an unstoppable finish into the net.
Despite Danny Murphy’s questionable eyesight, he was very clearly onside.
Cheltenham had a half chance to equalise as Matty Blair volleyed over following a corner, but it was City who would score again with the final kick, as Cancelo dinked a lovely ball through to Gundogan before the German pulled it across the box for Torres to tap home.
In the end, it is indeed City who progress to play Swansea in the next round- a fixture the Swans went 2-0 up in last time. Cheltenham were magnificent, and if not for tiring legs at the end, could possibly have held on to one of the greatest ever FA Cup shocks.
Full time: Cheltenham Town 1-3 Manchester City
Man of the Match: Ben Tozer
Foden was brilliant yet again, but the performance of the Cheltenham centre back was simply superb and rightly plauded post-match. Against a team of superstars, he showed his talent and desire from the off, with his clearance off the line one that will not be forgotten in a hurry.