When I heard the draw for the fourth round of the cup, my heart sank. Such is the gulf between teams like City and those battling a division below that an upset seemed impossible. I’ve heard the argument that if you want to progress you need to test yourself against the best. That is fine if you are ready for the test. But nothing that I have seen from my team this season suggests that we are and there is nothing worse than seeing your side given a footballing lesson. Our tie against the same opposition last season saw an arguably stronger side play well and still lose 3-0 to a City team that didn’t get out of second gear. Listening to the pundits before the game didn’t help my mood. On Radio 5Live, there was talk of Kidderminster getting a result at Sunderland, while we were given no chance. Equally, on breakfast television on Saturday morning the suggestion from a presenter that Watford may get a result was countered with the comment that this was the game which was least likely to see an upset.
Our time in Manchester didn’t start well as our pre-match pub of choice refused entry to Southerners so we decamped to a less interesting hostelry to numb ourselves. The texts from Toddy informing me that the U18s were 3-0 up in their cup game helped to enforce the notion that I had chosen the wrong match to attend. Given that City had scored 106 goals and an average of 4 a game so far this season, more than one Hornet mentioned their hope that we would keep the score down to single figures. When we reached the Etihad, which is an impressive stadium, I enjoyed the sight of the Maine Road chippie and hair salon opposite. It seemed to be positioned to remind the Etihad where they had come from and bring it down a peg or two. Before we were permitted entry to the ground, there was an impressive search procedure. Bags were searched, we were all patted down to ensure we had nothing illegal concealed about our person and, a first for me, a friendly sniffer dog was set on me, presumably to see whether I was concealing any flares. When the team was announced, we had made 5 changes. To be honest, it was difficult to work out what the formation was, but at least the much discussed midfield included some midfielders. Our starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Anya, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.
We started brightly and, some gallows humour from my companions encouraged me to make a note at 1 minute and 40 seconds that City hadn’t got out of their own half. In the second minute, Forestieri was felled on the edge of the box. He took the free kick himself, hitting it straight at the wall but the ball fell to Battocchio whose shot was high and wide. In the sixth minute, we had a shout for a penalty as Forestieri found Anya in the box where Pantilimon brought him down, but Kevin Friend waved the appeals away. At the other end Richards went down after being tackled on the edge of the box. While waiting for the free kick, there was a bit of pushing between Dzeko and Angella in the box that earned the City player a yellow card. On 10 minutes, Bond was called into action for the first time as a shot came in following a free-kick, which he blocked and then dropped to
claim the ball. Soon after, a corner from Navas was met with a header by Kolarov which flew across the box, but nobody was able to get a touch. Then Murray and Deeney combined to feed Anya whose cross was caught with Forestieri challenging Pantilimon. At this point the City fans started up a chant of “You’re just a stop off at Wembley.” Good one! On 15 minutes, City finally showed a glimpse of their quality with a lovely move that finished with a shot from Toure that was blocked. Watford continued to threaten as Forestieri broke downfield and fed Faraoni whose shot was straight at Pantilimon. In City’s next attack Angella was on hand to intercept a cut back from Navas. On 20 minutes, Watford went one up as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Deeney and
shot into the far corner. The celebrations in the away end were a mixture of joy and disbelief, but there was no doubt that the goal was well deserved. Soon after, Rodwell tried a shot that was deflected into Bond’s arms. Then Aguero received a pass from Toure and, despite the attentions of Angella, managed to shoot but Bond turned it around the post. Watford were then on the attack again. Forestieri picked up the ball from a throw-in and shot just wide of the near post. Then Sean Murray played a cross-field ball to Anya who found Deeney who slipped the ball between Pantilimon and the post. If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was properly mental. Thirty minutes in to the game and Watford are 2-0 up at the Etihad. The disbelief was palpable throughout the stadium. Watford continued to attack as Murray again found Anya who passed to Forestieri,
but his cross was cut out. A chant of “What the f*ck is going on” started. For the life of me I can’t remember which stand it came from, but both sets of fans would have been equally justified in singing it. Towards the end of the half, Kolarov tried a shot that Bond bravely came to gather. Then a shot from Anya was blocked, the rebound fell to Faraoni who shot wide of the far post. Next it was City’s turn with a Lopes shot that went wide of the near post. In the last minute of the half we could have been three up as a lovely Watford move ended with a Pudil shot that hit the side netting. I almost passed out at this point. Just before half time Kolarov had another attempt that was wide of the far post. Then a Lopes break was stopped by a tackle from Murray, who had been totally fearless all afternoon. Very impressive for such a young player.
At half time, the concourse was full of song. Although most people that I spoke to either wanted to know when they’d wake up or to go home, because surely we couldn’t keep this up. As the players came out for the second half, Kompany and Zabaleta had replaced Rodwell and Richards. The tannoy announcer originally stated that Zabaleta was on for someone “as yet unknown”. Given the size of Richards, I would have thought he was pretty hard to miss. The substitutions indicated that our first half performance had rattled Pellegrini.
Early in the second half, Pudil was booked for a tackle on Navas that had looked decent from our vantage point. On 53 minutes, a Murray corner was cleared and fell to Anya, but his shot was weak and easy for Pantilimon to deal with. Then Deeney found Anya, whose cross was cut out by Lescott. On 55 minutes, Aguero passed to Navas who found Dzeko whose shot was pounced on by Bond. At this point young Lopes was replaced by Jovetic. From a City corner, we twice cleared but the ball came back and finally fell to Jovetic who hit the shot wide of the target. On 58 minutes, City pulled a goal back. Kolarov crossed into the box, Bond did well to save Dzeko’s shot, but Aguero pounced on the loose ball to score. It had taken City an hour to breach the Watford defence and suddenly the home crowd could be heard. Soon after, Watford made their first
substitution as Cassetti replaced Forestieri. Aguero threated again almost immediately, getting on the end of a cross from Kompany but Doyley was on hand to block the shot. Doyley also foiled the next attempt as Dzeko got on to the end of a cross from Toure, but Lloyd’s attentions ensured that he headed wide of the target. A great rear-guard action by the Hornets couldn’t stop Kompany getting in a cross, but Dzeko’s shot was straight at Bond. On 75 minutes, Abdi replaced Murray, who had been excellent. Soon after, City were level as Navas advanced and passed to Aguero who struck an exquisite shot into the top left-hand corner. I have to say that we’d done brilliantly in matching them to this point but, gutting as that goal was, you couldn’t help admire it. Into the last 10 minutes and Cassetti got his customary booking, sticking out a foot as Kolarov attempted to run past him and then doing that look of horror at the injustice that we love so well. On 84 minutes, Fabbrini
replaced Faraoni. With five minutes to go until we’d earned a replay, disaster struck. Kolarov hit a speculative shot from outside the box. Bond dropped and appeared to have caught it, but the ball squirmed through his legs and into the net. That was a cruel way to go behind and Bond didn’t deserve that based on his performance. Neither did the travelling fans, but we were not downhearted and launched into loud chants in support of our team. On the pitch we battled on, as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but his shot on the run was high and wide. Anya broke again and played a through ball to Fabbrini, but the Italian was offside. Then Toure fed Navas whose initial shot rebounded back to him and Bond caught the follow-up. In time added on, City added a fourth as Aguero claimed his hat-trick with a header from a Navas cross. Straight from kick-off, Angella tried his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target. The final whistle went and there was no upset, but every Watford fan in attendance left the stadium with their head held high as our lads had given City a game and, despite their second half dominance, the Premier League high-fliers were flattered by the score.
At full time, Deeney went to swap shirts. Since the first player he approached didn’t take his, he ended up with two City shirts. Pudil and Doyley came over and handed their shirts to kids in the crowd. I then saw Deeney reach down the front of his shorts and my imagination went in to over drive about quite what he was going to throw into the crowd, so I was relieved when he extracted the two City shirts that he had placed there for safe-keeping as he applauded the fans. When I arrived home, I turned on the news and heard the newsreader talking about “an amazing comeback by Manchester City.” That was certainly not what anyone had expected on Saturday morning, but that is what keeps us going to games like this. Despite the final score, we were magnificent. Hell, we even won the first half and that made me very happy indeed.