City had to scrap tooth and nail to continue their quest for glory on all fronts as Watford almost caused the FA Cup shock of the fourth round.
The Blues found themselves 2-0 down with less than 30 minutes played, but despite being well below par, a stirring second-half comeback and a Sergio Aguero hat-trick ensured City go into the hat for tomorrow’s fifth round draw.
Credit to Watford, though, who surely can’t have played any better this season.
City were without the prolific Alvaro Negredo who sustained a shoulder injury against West Ham in midweek while David Silva was also absent with a slight hamstring problem.
With the Blues still gunning on four fronts for silverware this season, a home game against Championship opposition offered the opportunity to edge a little closer to a second domestic final of the campaign.
A victory over Watford and another home draw would further increase the chance of a third FA Cup final in four years, too – though that seemed a long way off prior to this fourth round tie.
With a sell-out crowd at the Etihad Stadium yet again, this competition clearly holds a special place in the City fans’ hearts – but few of the home fans would have predicted such a dire performance from their free-scoring heroes in the first 45 minutes.
...City v Watford...
For an upset to happen, it is generally accepted that the Blues would have to have an off-day and Watford would need to be at their very best – and that’s pretty much what happened with the visitors taking the game to City from the start.
The Blues looked cumbersome and slow while the Hornets were all verve and energy and had two good chances to take the lead when Ikechi Anya and Fernando Forestieri raced clear – but neither took the opportunity.
Those warnings should have been heeded, but when Cristian Battacchio’s pass was flicked into the path of Forestieri to run clear again, this time the Watford man made no mistake as he placed the ball past Costel Pantilimon with 20 minutes played.
Whereas an opposition goal has stirred the Blues into life in recent weeks, this time it changed little and Watford continued to threaten, harry and press and their industry was rewarded eight minutes later when they scored a second goal.
Again the home defence was carved open with ease as Troy Deeney was put clear inside the box and he finished coolly to again send the travelling fans into dreamland – it was a deserved 2-0 lead, too.
The Blues created nothing of note in the remaining minutes of the first period and the manager’s response was to haul off Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell at the break, replacing them with Kompany and Zabaleta.
City improved thereafter but there was a nagging feeling that it was just going to be one of those days as chances continued to go begging – until finally, the breakthrough came just before the hour-mark when a scramble in the six-yard box saw the ball fall to Aguero who stabbed home his 23rd of the campaign.
Surely now the cavalry would charge? The Blues huffed and puffed but too often the final pass was over-hit or misplaced and as the minutes ticked by, it seemed as though perhaps the comeback wouldn’t happen.
Then, finally, the Blues restored parity. Jesus Navas picked the ball up just outside his own box, drove forward 50 yards and eventually the ball found its way to Aguero who cut inside his marker before powering a shot into the top corner to make it 2-2.
...City v Watford...
Then with just four minutes of normal time left, Kolarov sent a hopeful drive in from 25 yards and as Watford keeper Jonathan Bond went down to collect, the ball emerged behind him as it squirmed over the line for what would prove to be the winner.
There was still time for Aguero to complete his treble as he nodded home Navas’ deep cross to send the home fans happy and complete a memorable fight-back by a team who never know when they are beaten.