Half-time entertainment. No replays this year, of course, so let’s go back to the era of the marathon tie.
HALF TIME: Cheltenham Town 0-0 Manchester City
What a magnificent display. No, not the fireworks: fourth-tier Cheltenham Town. They’ve been brilliant to a man so far, though special notices should be posted for Tozer, Griffiths and Azaz. It’s not even that City have been particularly bad. It’s just the FA Cup, is all. The magic of the FA Cup. Can it last another 45 minutes for Cheltenham? We’ll be on the verge of a sensation if so!
45 min +5: Now Tozer does some tidying up at the back. He’s been the man of the match so far, not least because of that astonishing goalline clearance.
45 min +4: Another opportunity for Tozer to do his thing. In comes the throw from the left. Mahrez hooks this one clear.
45 min +3: Clements curls the corner in with pace. Steffen does extremely well to punch clear under extreme pressure.
45 min +2: The first opportunity for Tozer to showcase his long throw. He towels the ball down, then flings it in from the left. Laporte is forced to head it behind, a melee having developed at the near post.
45 min: The fireworks fizzle out, and the game restarts. Cheltenham nearly catch City cold, Griffiths launching long, Boyle flicking on, Lloyd clattering into the back of Laporte on the penalty spot as he fought to get a shot away. Free kick for City.
43 min: Both sets of players congregate by the touchline, waiting for the display to stop. It doesn’t stop. The referee has a word with the local bobby, who runs off to see what’s what.
41 min: Some fireworks outside the stadium. A couple land on the field of play, and referee Stuart Attwell has no option but to take the players off.
39 min: Mahrez dribbles down the inside-left channel and curls hard towards the top left. Griffiths parries the shot high into the sky, then claims at the second attempt.
38 min: Doyle nicks the ball off Azaz, but in doing so, hysterically shanks the ball out for a corner. City deal with the set piece easily enough, and suddenly Mahrez is tearing clear down the right. He crosses in the hope of finding Foden, but Tozer is positioned well to head clear.
36 min: Jesus is blocked by Tozer’s arm as he darts down the left. He wants a penalty but he’s not getting it. The ball’s worked back to Fernandinho, who creams a shot towards the top left. It’s always heading wide, and Griffiths had it covered anyway.
34 min: Doyle ships possession meekly and Cheltenham stream forward in attack. Azaz drives down the middle then slips a pass wide to Freestone, who is in plenty of space but hesitates and is eventually forced to turn tail. Just for a second there, City looked light at the back and Cheltenham were carrying a threat.
32 min: Freestone curls a pass down the left to release May. The flag goes up. That looked tight. May would have been free. City fly up the other end, Mendy cutting back from the byline on the left to find Foden, who slams a first-time shot into the hoardings. By the look of frustration on his face, he expected to score there.
30 min: Griffiths blooters a drop-kick down the middle. It nearly finds its way through to Lloyd on the edge of the City box. Not quite, but Garcia didn’t look particularly comfortable as he grappled nearby with May. Cheltenham are keeping City’s defenders honest.
28 min: May bustles down the right and draws a free kick from Laporte. Clements loops it long, hoping to find Raglan at the far post, but it hangs in the air and Steffen rises to claim.
26 min: Mendy whistles a volleyed cross through the six-yard box from the left. It’s begging to be turned home, but a deflection takes it away from Jesus and Torres.
24 min: City clear the corner easily enough, and then Boyle is booked for upending Doyle in an over-zealous attempt to keep the pressure on.
23 min: Azaz shovels a clever pass down the inside left for his pal May, who strides into the City box and attempts to catch Steffen out at his near post. Steffen is forced to turn the ball around the post for a corner. That was a fine move.
22 min: Mahrez curls in from the right. Jesus wins a header eight yards out. Ah hold on, it’s his shoulder, and that’ll explain why the ball harmlessly squirted wide left.
21 min: City stroke it around the back in the patient style. Cheltenham will be more than happy with this. Then they intercept, Azaz trying to spring May clear down the inside left. The flag goes up correctly for offside.
19 min: Another City corner, another calm claim for Griffiths. The young keeper’s had a great game so far.
18 min: Clements shanks the ball to Mendy on the left. Mendy feeds Foden, who crosses low for Torres. A snapshot is well saved by Griffiths, the rebound hacked out for another City corner.
17 min: Tozer hooks a clearance upfield and accidentally boots Torres in the chest on the follow-through. City want a free kick for a high challenge, but they’re not getting one.
15 min: City have come very close twice, but Cheltenham will be extremely happy to get to the first staging post unscathed. They’ve played well so far, resolute in defence, and unafraid to throw men into attack.
13 min: Nothing comes of the resulting corner. That might have been one of the greatest, certainly one of the most unreal, goalline clearances in the entire history of football. Sensational!
12 min: Doyle crosses from the right. The ball’s half cleared to Mendy, who is barrelling in from the left. Mendy hits a rising howitzer towards the top right. It’s surely a goal, he’s really creamed that! But Tozer makes a spectacular one-in-a-million goalline clearance! A stunning diving header! He had about 0.00000000001 seconds of reaction time to deal with that.
10 min: Mahrez fouls Clements near the centre circle and it’s another chance for the hosts to fling a free kick into the City box. It’s easily cleared by Fernandinho.
9 min: Doyle whips the free kick into the Cheltenham box. A quick bit of pinball before the ball sails into the arms of Griffiths.
8 min: The free kick’s floated into the mixer. Boyle wins a header. It drops to Thomas, who tries to Zidane a shot goalwards from a tight angle on the right. The ball loops off Garcia. Cheltenham claim a penalty for handball, but no way. City go up the other end, Mahrez illegally blocked by Freestone as he makes his way down the right.
7 min: Azaz probes down the left. City half clear, but then Jesus barges clumsily into the back of Clements, and this is a free kick, just to the left of centre, 30 yards out. Cheltenham load the box.
6 min: Cheltenham look lively in these early exchanges. Azaz slips a ball down the inside-right channel and finds May, but the striker’s gone too soon and the flag goes up for offside.
4 min: A real concern for May, who is Cheltenham’s leading scorer. But thankfully he’s up and about. A sore hand, but he looks good to continue. So Cheltenham have just about managed to bodyswerve what would have been a couple of huge early blows.
2 min: Cheltenham breathe out. Blair goes romping down the right, and fires one towards the near post. May can only slam the ball wide, and his momentum sends him crashing into the advertising hoardings. He stays down awhile, having hurt his arm.
21 seconds: City nearly take the lead, Mahrez looping down the right, Jesus breaking into the box and attempting to chip over Griffiths in the Cheltenham goal. Griffiths does extremely well to paw away. What a start that would have been.
City get the ball rolling, but only after everyone takes a knee of solidarity and love. There’s no room for racism. Kick it out.
A word with Robins boss Michael Duff: “Looking forward to it. It’s probably the biggest cup tie in the club’s history. A little bit of trepidation, but this is why we’re in the FA Cup. The message to the players is: can you walk off the pitch with pride? Don’t walk off the pitch all nice and clean, asking for somebody’s shirt. That’s not what we want to do.”
And here’s Pep Guardiola: “They have qualities that we don’t find usually. The throw will cause a lot of problems. We have to play a good game.”
Cheltenham have a lovely badge, don’t they? So nice to see the faux heraldic crest and the currently ubiquitous roundel eschewed for something a bit more abstract. These things are important, as one of the Guardian’s premier buffoons once argued.
The winners of this match will be away to Swansea City in the fifth round. The Swans have just battered Nottingham Forest, whose 62-year itch in this competition remains unscratched. John Brewin has the details of that 5-1 thumping, plus news of all the other 3pms, in today’s Clockwatch.
Cheltenham make two changes to the team named for Tuesday’s 1-1 League Two draw with Newport County. Lewis Freestone and Chris Clements take the place of the injured Chris Hussey and Ellis Chapman.
Manchester City meanwhile make ten changes from the team that beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the Premier League on Wednesday. Phil Foden is the only player to retain his place. Aymeric Laporte returns after a month out injured, while academy prospects Tommy Doyle and Taylor Harwood-Bellis are given an opportunity to show what they can do.
Cheltenham Town: Griffiths, Raglan, Tozer, Boyle, Blair, Azaz, Thomas, Clements, Freestone, May, Lloyd.
Subs: Flinders, Long, Bowry, Williams, Addai, Harris, Ebanks.
Manchester City: Steffen, Harwood-Bellis, Garcia, Laporte, Mendy, Torres, Fernandinho, Doyle, Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Foden.
Subs: Dias, Sterling, Gundogan, Zinchenko, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Ederson, Bernabe.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).
The magic of the FA Cup, distilled into its purest tincture, right here! Fourth-tier Cheltenham Town are rewarded for edging past Mansfield Town in the last round with a home tie against one of the best teams in the world: Manchester City.
It’s a David-Goliath scene all right. Pep Guardiola’s side have won their last nine matches straight, while Cheltenham have only won one of their last nine, that aforementioned win over Mansfield, and they needed extra time to achieve that. There are 82 places between these sides in the football pyramid. And even if Pep does the Big Rotate, his squad is so deep it’s difficult to see a way for Michael Duff’s men to pull off a seismic shock.
But it’s that cup magic again, and in this grand old tournament, you just never know. Set pieces, maybe. Or a determined rearguard action, the Robins somehow holding out for extra time and the sort-of-lottery of penalties. We have a good idea how this is going to pan out, but stranger things have happened in the cup. And after what happened a couple of years ago at Wigan, nobody at City will be taking Cheltenham lightly. Kick off is at 5.30pm. Pour me a shot of that magic tincture! It’s on!