Bristol City’s players might be feeling deflated after Manchester City’s late winner on Tuesday night, but they shouldn’t be.
The Robins lost the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final but they still got what they came to the Etihad Stadium for because the tie is still alive, and they should be so proud of that achievement.
I was delighted with the way the Championship side played and, as callers to 5 live said after the match, they put many Premier League teams to shame with their attack-minded approach – they did anything but park the bus.
Not many teams have gone to Etihad Stadium this season and tried to play on the front foot and, when they have, Manchester City have beaten them with a lot more ease than they did against Lee Johnson’s side.
- ‘8,000 Bristolians walking on cider’ – 5 live Football Daily
- Late Aguero goal gives Manchester City advantage
Bristol City defend well but still show attacking intent
I listened to 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.
One of the highlights of what was a fantastic game was the goal-line clearance by Aden Flint to head Raheem Sterling’s shot off the line to stop Pep Guardiola’s side from levelling just after Bristol City had scored.
I thought what Flint did was magic, and is that coming from someone who was a goalscorer. I love to see attacking skill but that was a tremendous piece of defending that summed up the huge effort their players put in.
But equally important was what the Robins did when they did have the ball. They barely touched it for the first 10 minutes but when they did we saw a real show of intent.
Hordur Magnusson, the left-back, went over to the outside right position to take a long throw and Flint came up to try to get on the end of it.
Suddenly their two central defenders and three or four midfielders were attacking the area, and that was typical of the way they chose their moments to get men forward. It was not just at set-pieces, either.
I said before the game that they had to make the most of it when they did get on the ball in the right areas, and the way they got their goal was a great example of that.
They pressed high up the pitch and stole the ball in an area where they could hurt Manchester City. That is what led to their penalty, and it was down to Johnson’s gameplan.
He clearly wanted them to attack when they could, even though that was the only time they lost their shape and when they were most vulnerable at the back.
One of the biggest compliments I can give them is that they were still willing to do that. Bristol City did themselves proud, and they did the Championship proud too.
Late goals are what Man City do – and it is very hard to stop them
Manchester City came back to equalise in the second half of course, and went on to get their 92nd-minute winner.
Before Aguero scored to put them 2-1 up, I was saying on-air to Alan Green that I thought every neutral in the country was hoping the Robins could hold on.
That was not being anti-Manchester City at all, because I admire them and think they are the best team in the country at the moment.
I was at the Etihad as a neutral and I enjoy the football that the runaway Premier League leaders play, but I did feel a little bit disappointed that Bristol City lost to a goal when they did.
I just had to sympathise with Johnson’s side because they had given everything and they deserved to leave with a draw.
The reason they didn’t is down to the genius Manchester City have in their team at the moment.
They have been scoring late goals in games all season – 19 in total – as part of their long unbeaten run in domestic competition and that is not down to luck, it is just what they do, and it is very hard to stop them.
Watching Bristol City towards the end of the game, it sounds the easiest thing in the world to say to them not to defend so deep.
But Manchester City keep you pegged back and do not allow you to get out. They kept the pressure on Lee Johnson’s side and kept the ball in their half.
They forced errors and created spaces. Chances followed and, eventually, so did a goal.
- ‘The world has seen what we are about’ – Bristol City boss Lee Johnson
Why Bristol City will still believe they can win
What I think is fantastic is that the second leg is at Ashton Gate. It is no more than Bristol City deserve.
Three of their four wins against Premier League clubs in the Carabao Cup this season have come there, including their famous win over holders Manchester United in the quarter-finals.
They also know they can cause this Manchester City team problems after what happened on Tuesday, and that they will have the backing of their noisy fans too.
So there are plenty of reasons why the Robins will believe they can win and reach the final at Wembley.
Lee Johnson definitely does. From what he says, you can tell he believes in his team, and that they will give him a high level of performance. They certainly did that at Etihad Stadium and they were very unlucky to lose.
Yes, they will have to go for it because they are a goal down but it will not scare them in the slightest.
Manchester City are still absolute favourites, of course they are. If the first leg had finished 1-1 that would still be the case.
They deserve to be, because they are the best team in the country – but in football the favourites do not always win.
I would have fancied Bristol City’s chances far more if this was a one-off cup tie, like the one they had against United.
But now that is exactly what they have got. They will have to perform at the same level again to have a chance, but they have given themselves a great opportunity.
Ally McCoist was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.