Bristol City 2 Manchester United 1
Bristol City are in the Carabao Cup semi-finals after Korey Smith scored a stunning winner against Manchester United in the third minute of added time at Ashton Gate to set off raucous scenes at Ashton Gate.
Smith chested down a Matty Taylor pass before turning and volleying left-footed across Sergio Romero. The Championship side had taken the lead in spectacular fashion through Joe Bryan before Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on his return to the United starting line-up, appeared to have forced extra time with a vicious free-kick.
This was always going to be a special occasion under the lights inside a sold-out stadium as the Robins duelled with Manchester United for the first time since 1980, when United ran out 4-0 winners.
In these parts, the ambition is to make these meetings a more regular event, with the club third in the second tier and vying for promotion to the top flight. They have excelled in this competition, too, humbling three Premier League sides – Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Watford – en route to this match-up. They had also scored 14 goals, more than any other side, to get here.
Mourinho stuck true to his word by naming a strong team here, although David de Gea and Nemanja Matic did not travel to the West Country. Luke Shaw, however, made his first start since April. For the hosts, heavily depleted through injury, one-time United goalkeeper Luke Steele was their only change. It was Romero, though, who was kept more busy during a frenetic first half of action, with Josh Brownhill's dipping drive forcing the United goalkeeper to punch clear early on, while defender Hordur Magnusson also went close.
City played with a familiar intensity that has served them so well this term with Bristolians and academy graduates, Bryan and Bobby Reid, in particular, relishing the challenge by getting in the faces of the opposition. Bryan enjoyed his battle with Matteo Darmian while Reid, converted to a striker over the summer, was again a nuisance.
United, though largely underwhelming, twice struck the woodwork inside 21 minutes, through Ibrahimovic and then Marcus Rashford. Ibrahimovic then skewed a volley horribly wide and into the rebuilt South Stand. With half-time approaching, City, revved up by more than 22,000 noisy home supporters, upped their search for an opener. When Smith drove into the box, he almost laid the ball on a plate for Reid but for Daley Blind to pour cold water on the move, intercepting just as the forward looked to pull the trigger.
Aden Flint, who has a knack for coming up with the goods having scored six times already from centre back, did put the ball in the net, poking home after blocking Romero's goal-kick but the referee, Mike Dean, intervened with the defender already wheeling away. It caused a kerfuffle on the touchline, too, with Mourinho's assistant, Rui Faria, and Bristol City assistant coach Dean Holden briefly exchanging words.
After the interval, a couple of quickfire challenges on Paul Pogba and then Anthony Martial presented the visitors with the chance to test Steele. Test him they did, the City goalkeeper diving low to his right to clear Rashford's effort. Then City flew forward, Reid flashing an effort against the side-netting.
City’s next move left a significant mark, though. Reid played a fine through ball into Bryan, who raced down the left before blasting the ball into the corner beyond Romero. United were shell-shocked while the home dugout exploded to life like an impromptu mosh pit.
Ashton Gate was bouncing, but the joy was short-lived. Six minutes later, Pogba ran in to a sea of red shirts, winning a soft free-kick out of Smith. Ibrahimovic stood over it before hammering it low around the wall and past Steele, who seemed to be caught unsighted. Ibrahimovic simply wagged his finger in celebration.
Then came Romelu Lukaku in place of Blind but it was Bryan who found the next opening, his tame right-footed effort being easily gathered by Romero. Mourinho then introduced Henrikh Mkhitaryan – but in place of Ibrahimovic – while City went for broke, summoning former Bristol Rovers striker Taylor in place of the defender Magnusson. City surrendered control in search for a winner, with Lukaku’s header forcing Steele into a superb stop while Bryan did brilliantly, as the last man, to prevent Rashford squaring for Lukaku.
The closing stages of normal time was a Steele masterclass, with the City goalkeeper getting a fingertip to Lukaku’s goal-bound effort, before Smith provided the most incredible of finales. – Guardian service
CARABAO CUP SEMI-FINAL DRAW
Chelsea v Arsenal
Manchester City v Bristol City
Matches to be played over 2 legs on weeks commencing January 8th and 22nd.