Manchester City breezed into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a convincing win at Swindon Town. First half goals from Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus put City in full control by half-time. A superb free kick by Ilkay Gundogan sent the blues 3-0 up and, despite the home side pulling a goal back through Harry KcKirdy, youngster Cole Palmer wrapped up the win with eight minutes remaining.
Covid-19 had returned to the City squad just over a year after the first wave swept through the club. That time, it forced a postponement of City’s Premier League visit to Everton, however on Friday, the blues were able to still name a string line-up, allowing the game to go ahead.
Manager Pep Guardiola was amongst the staff hit by the virus, along with seven first team members, with assistant manager Rodolfo Borrell taking charge for the match. Borrell named seven youngsters on the bench, including Brazilian signing Kayky, with Scott Carson and Aymeric Laporte the only recognised first team names in reserve.
But it would be Cole who would take a starring role as City spent much of the first forty-five minutes in the Swindon half. Palmer firmly displayed why he is rated so highly at City as he set up the blues first goal with just fourteen minutes on the clock. The youngster collected the ball on the right, then jinked his way into the penalty area where is inch-perfect cross eluded the keeper and allowed Silva the simplest of tap-ins.
The blues continued to press, with the home side limited to the odd break, which would be lapped up by the City defence. On the one occasion Swindon did get a dangerous ball into the box, Kyle Walker, returning for his first start since being sent off against RB Leipzig in December, made a vital clearance to prevent the chance.
City were gifted a second goal on 28 minutes. Swindon tried to play the ball out from the back, but a hurried clearance by the keeper didn’t give the Swindon defence time to react. Jesus picked up the loose ball and played a one-two with Kevin de Bruyne, before finishing low to the keeper’s left and into the bottom corner.
It was a deserved lead on the balance of play and City almost grabbed a third just before half time. Joao Cancelo, who has been outstanding of late, hit a rasping drive that looked like it has found the top corner. Replays clarified that the ball had whistled inches past the post and bounced onto the roof of the goal.
City continued their assault on the Swindon goal. With no replays, the match had to be settled on the night and given City’s previous penalty shoot-out defeat at West Ham, it was not a road they wanted to go down, however the tie was made safe in the 59th minute thanks to a piece of brilliance by Gundogan.
City were awarded a free-kick12 yards outside the Swindon penalty area and the German international found a sliver of space between the edge of the wall and the Swindon goal, before curling his shot beyond the keeper and in off the post.
The blues were presented with a golden opportunity to make it 4-0 three minutes later when Jesus was brought down inside the penalty area and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The Brazilian dusted himself off to take the kick himself, but saw his weak effort saved. Jesus stuttered his run-up, allowing the keeper to guess right and parry his spot-kick away.
The home side claimed a penalty themselves a few minutes later but the referee waved away their appeals, much to the derision of the home side, manager and supporters. But Swindon wouldn’t be denied a goal and when City lost possession in midfield, it gave McKirdy an opportunity to make a name for himself.
The striker was played in on the right and his low shot was too precise for Steffen which sent the home side wild. It was a good finish by McKirdy, however he went off shortly afterwards after taking a knock. By then, City had scored a fourth through Palmer, whose composed finish showed the reason why he is one for the future.
Silva’s shot, after being played in by Cole, rebounded to the youngster who controlled the ball before curling a shot that hit the bar and post before finding the back of the goal.
It was a deserved victory for the blues, who now have a week to prepare for the top of the table clash with Chelsea next Saturday.
Final Score: Swindon Town 1-4 Manchester City