Monday 18th October 2021

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  • Bristol City 2-1 Manchester United

    Korey Smith scored an injury-time winner as Championship side Bristol City stunned holders Manchester United to reach the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

    Smith’s turn and strike in the final minute of time added on booked a semi-final against Premier League leaders Manchester City.

    After an even first hour, Joe Bryan’s rasping left-foot strike across goal into the top corner gave the Robins a shock lead at a packed Ashton Gate.

    Their advantage lasted just eight minutes, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic marking his first start since 20 April with a low free-kick past Luke Steele, before Smith struck.

    There were jubilant scenes at the final whistle, with much of the sell-out crowd rushing on to the pitch in celebration and taking selfies with some of the City players.

    Despite fielding a side showing 10 changes, United manager Jose Mourinho had recalled Paul Pogba after a three-match ban and picked a forward line of Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

    The visitors did carve out numerous opportunities from open play, with Ibrahimovic and Rashford both striking the woodwork before half-time.

    But, despite clearly tiring towards the end, City continued to throw numbers forward and were rewarded with Smith’s dramatic winner – making United the fourth Premier League side they have knocked out this season, after Watford, Stoke and Crystal Palace.

    How did Bristol City do it?

    Head coach Lee Johnson has overseen a remarkable – bordering on unprecedented – turnaround during the past nine months.

    Having endured a run of 15 defeats in 19 games, including a club record eight successive losses, the 36-year-old’s job looked under serious threat – as did City’s Championship status.

    But, backed by owner Steve Lansdown, Johnson has since transformed the Robins into genuine promotion contenders, currently third in the table and now having won nine of their past 11 matches in all competitions.

    As well as the upturn in results, the former midfielder has also produced a team now well recognised for their eye-catching brand of high-pressing, high-energy football – attributes they demonstrated in abundance against United.

    With diminutive pairing Bobby Reid and Jamie Paterson up front, City were forced to play through the lines rather than going direct and, although United were generally comfortable keeping the Robins at arms’ length, Smith had already got clear in the first half only to be denied by a superb last-ditch tackle by Daley Blind.

    Academy product Bryan, previously linked with a move to the top flight, was another important outlet and the home side’s best player on the night, scoring a fine goal to put the hosts in front.

    City maintained their confidence despite Ibrahimovic’s equaliser and with extra-time looming, they got their rewards as Smith kept his cool by stroking home a famous winner.

    A historic night for the Robins

    Bristol City, without a major trophy in their history, have only four times reached the semi-final stage of the FA Cup or EFL Cup previously.

    Since dropping out of the top flight in 1980 and nearly going out of business two years later, the club have spent much of their time in the second and third tiers of the pyramid.

    But there is now a feeling in south Bristol that this exciting young head coach, and his team, could achieve something special.

    Owner Lansdown has funded the redevelopment of Ashton Gate, now an impressive 27,000-capacity venue, as well as backing Johnson in the transfer market, although £5.3m summer signing Famara Diedhiou did not feature on Wednesday because of a knee injury.

    In the build-up, defender Aden Flint had described the Manchester United fixture as their “least important game of the month” and, though a two-legged last-four tie awaits, City’s attention will now turn towards continuing their push for Premier League.

    ‘Total euphoria’

    Johnson celebrated Smith’s late winner by picking up a ballboy and hurling him around on the touchline as Ashton Gate experienced disbelief.

    With Championship matches against QPR, Reading and leaders Wolves to come before the end of the year, Johnson wants this famous result to bring more fans in to fuel their promotion hopes.

    “To beat Manchester United at home is a historic occasion,” he said.

    “That Korey Smith goal at the end will live in the memory for many generations. Total euphoria.

    “I didn’t know what to do! I wanted to run and celebrate with the lads. He [the ball boy] was the only one there.

    “Hopefully it will attract more supporters in because we want more nights like that.

    “You don’t beat Manchester United if you’re Bristol City unless every man is doing a man-and-a-half’s job.”

    What went wrong for United?

    Mourinho, the most successful manager in the history of the competition, will rue a number of missed chances, even though the two sides were well-matched.

    The visitors hit the woodwork twice before half-time, while Bristol City goalkeeper Steele produced two brilliant saves to deny Romelu Lukaku – brought on with half an hour to go – a fourth goal in five games.

    Rashford and Martial curled further efforts wide of the post either side of the break, while twice late on United failed to make the most of clear openings on the counter-attack.

    But they were never able to take full control of the tie as they would have hoped. They were harassed and harried in possession and, be it through tenacious defending or sloppy play, were subsequently unable to sustain long periods of pressure.

    United, 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester City in the Premier League, will now likely look at the FA Cup and Champions League as their best hopes of silverware in 2017-18 – with this tie surely considered a missed opportunity.

    Mourinho lower league woe – the stats

    What’s next?

    The busy Christmas period, that’s what. Bristol City are back in action when the play QPR at Loftus Road in a Championship fixture on Saturday, kick-off 15:00 GMT. United have a few more hours to recover – they play at Leicester in the Premier League at 19:45 GMT.

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