Pep Guardiola conceded that he was close to being on the wrong end of one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup history after League Two Cheltenham Town took Manchester City to within nine minutes of an embarrassing exit before a comeback lead by Phil Foden.
Guardiola acknowledged that the long throw-in of Cheltenham captain Ben Tozer, an outstanding performer on the night, was “more important than a corner or a free-kick” after it created a 59th minute goal for striker Alfie May that put the tie on a knife-edge.
Foden, now City’s top goalscorer, and his side’s best player scored the equaliser on 89 minutes before goals from Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres earned City a fifth round tie away at Swansea City. “It could be a huge loss,” Guardiola said. He added: “We won the game and I’m incredibly happy. We know many teams are out. We knew we were not going to win by three or four although the chances we had at 0-0, if we had scored it would have been a completely different game. I said to Michael [Duff Cheltenham manager] they did really well and defended very well. May was exceptional.”
On Tozer’s throw he said: “They are taller and better than us in this especially but we reacted so well. It’s not the first time a premier league team suffered and they suffered well and we go through to play Swansea.”
Cheltenham have suffered losses of £1 million this season according to chairman Andy Wilcox and the FA Cup run has ensured their survival. Duff praised an “incredible performance” from his players. “The last thing I said to them before was ‘Can you walk off the pitch with your shoulders back proud of yourselves?’ You can’t guarantee the result but it can happen that you jog around, not get near them and come off with someone’s shirt. But this time Pep and his players will know they have been involved in a match.”
“I thought it was an amazing performance and we could have been 1-0 down within about 20 seconds. You have that nerves and anxiety because a team like this can put eight or nine past you and that fear drives you on.”
Guardiola had to make three substitutions to get the equaliser. “I have said to the players ‘Enjoy it because they don’t come around often, the social media praise, but you better turn up on Monday ready to work because we have got Oldham on Tuesday’”. Duff, a professional with Cheltenham and Burnley in his playing career and a Northern Ireland international, said he presented Guardiola with a bottle of wine and had also spent a few minutes “picking his brain” after the game.