Can Bristol City fight back and defeat Manchester City in the Carabao Cup semi-final?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Watford. Stoke City. Crystal Palace. Manchester United.
These are the Premier League scalps that Bristol City have collected on the way to the Carabao Cup semi-final. The Robins have impressed in the competition, winning comfortably in the earlier rounds and defeating the League Cup holders United to be drawn against their neighbours.
Manchester City, meanwhile, are on a seemingly unstoppable run. They have repeatedly brushed aside teams in the top tier with high-scoring victories, and the Citizens sit on top of the Premier League by a gulf of 15 points.
The unbeaten league leaders have yet to lose a domestic game this season, and yet it took a Championship side to really challenge them at the Etihad on Tuesday night. The semi-final first leg ended 2-1 to the hosts, but they had to rely on a 92nd minute header from Sergio Aguero to spare their blushes.
With another 90 minutes to play, or possibly more, at Ashton Gate on January 23, can Bristol City turn round the tie and progress to the Carabao Cup final?
Robins midfielder Bobby Reid certainly believes so. When asked if victory was possible in the return fixture, the 24-year-old said "100 per cent", reminding City that there's only one goal in it - and a 1-0 score in the second leg would be enough for his side.
He said: "I think with the crowd behind us it will be a different atmosphere. It's a closed-in stadium and the fans are right on top. The fans will be buzzing, right behind us.
"We'll still play with that energy and desire and who knows how it will go?"
Reid added: "They move the ball well and at any given time they can do something special, but we worked hard to move the ball and we showed we can play good football as well.
"You have to give them a bit of respect but not so much that they can just roll you over.
"We want to be in the Premier League and we want to be playing the best teams in the Premier League. We want to showcase our skills against the best and play them."
Former Rangers manager turned BBC pundit Ally McCoist praised Bristol for their display, saying they did themselves and the Championship proud. While the players may feel deflated after the late winner, they shouldn't be because the tie is still alive; and they should be "so proud of that achievement".
He wrote: "They put many Premier League teams to shame with their attack-minded approach - they did anything but park the bus.
"I listened to [Lee] Johnson speaking before the game and he knew his side would spend a large part of the game defending against one of the best sides in Europe.
"So when Manchester City had possession, Bristol City had to be disciplined, well-organised and determined - all of which they were."
Head coach Lee Johnson said "the world has seen what Bristol City are about" in their narrow loss, praising his "outstanding" players. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola paid tribute to the Championship side, saying they had come to the Etihad to play.
Guardiola said: “All credit to Bristol. You can't knock out four teams from the Premier League without being well-organised and having nice players.
"Both teams tried to play. They are up near the top in the Championship. I have a lot of respect for what they have done.
"It is of benefit for football, for fans and for everyone when two teams they go to the pitch and they want to play. When that happens it is up to us to find a way to overcome them.
Manchester City will travel to Bristol City for the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg on Tuesday, January 23 (K.O. 7.45pm). They will start the game 2-1 ahead on aggregate, but the Robins scored an away goal.