James Milner hauls City past Sheffield Wednesday
England midfielder scored twice in the second half to deny Stuart Gray’s men
Sheffield Wednesday’s players reacts after Manchester City scored their second goal at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Phil Noble / Reuters
James Milner of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his first against Sheffield Wednesday at Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Dust off the cliches: romance, magic and all the other old FA Cup chestnuts are in the rudest of health after being given fresh life by a Sheffield Wednesday team who gave the champions of England a fair fright.
This was a side who had been trounced 7-0 by Manchester City the previous time they visited the Etihad Stadium, for last September’s Capital One Cup tie.
On that evening Wednesday had held City 0-0 at the break before crumpling in the second half.
Today, the score was 1-1 as the closing moments were played out, Stuart Gray’s men having refused to stop hassling and harrying even after James Milner’s 66th-minute equaliser and even after a winner in stoppage time that broke Wednesday hearts.
When half-time arrived City had been outmuscled by the visitors who hunted in packs in midfield as Fernando, the £12m summer signing who is yet to impress, was too often beaten to the crucial 50-50s that decide who controls proceedings.
Conversely, a microcosm of how poor City were was when Stevan Jovetic aimed a regulation pass at no one just as the sides were about to wander off for the interval.
The Sky Blues had dominated possession but lacked the skill to make this tell. Pellegrini’s side opened up by forcing two corners in succession after a Bacary Sagna attempt was deflected behind.
Before Atdhe Nuhiu gave Wednesday the advantage City twice broke with menace through sweeping Frank Lampard balls. Again, though, there was no end product.
Wednesday were about to show precisely how to slash a side open and make it count. Kieran Lee, the Wednesday midfielder, threaded a pass in behind Eliaquim Mangala to May. As the £40m defender struggled to catch the No7 he zipped over a cross that was met with first-time perfection by Nuhiu who beat Caballero to his left easily.
Before the second half Pellegrini must have offered stern words to his men to up their speed of thought and execution and was rewarded by a brighter opening to the second half.
Navas produced a ball that skimmed across the area which the arriving Lampard just failed to connect with, then Yaya Touré had a shot blocked.
After 10 minutes of the second half, Wednesday were already in siege mode, readied for a long fight in the hope of glorious reward. And, they still looked composed. When Touré hit a diagonal pass Liam Palmer’s decision was not a wild flail but a cool header back to the safety of Chris Kirkland.
Too many City players were enduring an off day. Top of this list were Fernando and Jovetic, who on the hour was lucky to win a 20-yard free-kick when running clumsily into the defence.
The replacements, though, were an instant hit. Nasri found Silva and the Spaniard, in turn, delivered one of those sublime around-the-corner passes that are his calling card to the onrushing Milner: the finish went through Kirkland’s legs and that was 1-1.
Yet Wednesday fought back and Jacques Maghoma twice came close to re-establishing their lead when bursting into the area.
Milner, oddly for a man who had just scored, opted to square the ball when again clear, this time to the left of Kirkland’s goal, and the chance fizzled out.
On 90 minutes Silva might have won the game but a strong shot was saved superbly by Kirkland. Wednesday deserved to survive but, at the death, Jesus Navas’s ball was turned home by the always-impressive Milner.