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Man City strike with late flurry to avoid FA Cup shock against Cheltenham

Cheltenham 1 Man City 3


Gabriel Jesus scored a crucial goal for Man City in the 3-1 win over Cheltenham. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Gabriel Jesus scored a crucial goal for Man City in the 3-1 win over Cheltenham. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Gabriel Jesus scored a crucial goal for Man City in the 3-1 win over Cheltenham. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Manchester City survived an almighty scare against League Two side Cheltenham, as three goals in the final ten minutes dug them out of a huge hole as they sealed a 3-1 win.

Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres swept to City’s rescue after they were rocked by Alfie May’s stunning opener for the home side.

Yet Foden admitted City had been tested to the full by their plucky rivals who matched them for 80 minutes of this compelling tie.

"Cheltenham made it tough for us," conceded the England midfielder. "They kept their shape well, the pitch was bobbly and when they scored, it was tough for us.

"The manager asked us to play the passes shorter in the second half and try to break through their lines and it worked for us in the end.

"There's no better feeling than scoring. I'm just enjoying scoring at the moment because that's what I enjoy most. I'm playing well at the moment but you can easily have a bad performance so I'm just trying to stay at the top of my game and playing like this."

City manager Pep Guardiola insisted he remained calm, even when his side fell behind as he spoke to the BBC.

"I didn't have regrets even when we were 1-0 down, we had clear chance from the first minute," he said. "When they take advantage it gets complicated but we got it to 1-1 and it was tight. We came here with humility and had the quality to make the difference.

"They used their quality in the box, they are taller and better than us there and we showed clips on how to solve it. It is difficult to control that.

"Phil Foden is in a great moment and with great confidence. He is clinical in front of goal and he had a similar chance to the goal we scored at Stamford Bridge and he is playing really well."

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Ederson, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were among those rested by Pep Guardiola, yet the team the City boss picked should have been more than strong enough to beat their fourth-tier rivals.

Former Northern Ireland international Michael Duff was the man masterminding what always seemed like mission impossible against a City side with a fearsome record in domestic cup competition in recent years.

Yet the minnows diluted the threat of their star-studded opponents with unexpected ease in the first half, with Riyad Mahrez among those failing to stamp their class on the game.

Guardiola’s frustration on the touchline was evident as May fired a shot into the side-netting from a tight angle after 23 minutes.

Cheltenham’s Ben Tozer then pulled off a miracle clearance as Benjamin Mendy blasted an effort at goal, with his headed clearance as the ball was about to puncture the net a moment of heroism that kept the dream alive for the side playing at their wonderfully named Jonny-Rocks Stadium.

Since losing against Wigan 1-0 in February 2018, Man City have won their last seven FA Cup games against sides from a lower division by an aggregate score of 26-4.

Yet this was not a City side firing on all cylinders and when Jesus hit the post when handed a glorious chance to open the scoring after 53 minutes, Cheltenham dared to believe the impossible could happen.

Then, remarkably, Cheltenham found a breakthrough, with Tozer’s long-throw causing chaos in the CIty defence and May nipped in to fire into the roof of the net.

The celebrations that greeted May’s goal would have been even more iconic if the stadium was packed, yet this was still a flash of magic for a team that could never have believed such an upset would be possible.

May cost Cheltenham around £50,000 when he signed for the club from Doncaster last January and this goal threatened to send shockwaves around the football world.

Foden was the one bright spark in a flat City display and if anyone was going to find a route back into the game for the Premier League big-hitters, he was their likely candidate and so it proved.

The clocked was ticking towards 82 minutes and Cheltenham were edging closer to glory when Foden ghosted into the box and finished from close range, with TV replays confirming he had timed his run to perfection to stay onside.

Cheltenham’s players were visibly shaken by Foden’s equaliser, so it was no surprise when Jesus scored the winner three minutes later.

Pulling the ball down in the box and unleashing an emphatic finish, City’s get out of jail card had finally been played, with Torres adding a clincher in injury time as Cheltenham’s jaded defenders finally surrendered.

City will now play Swansea away from home in round five, with Guardiola relieved to escape from Cheltenham with his side’s push for another domestic treble still on course.

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