12 min: Doyle crosses from the right. The ball’s half cleared to Mendy, who is barrelling in from the left. Mendy hits a rising howitzer towards the top right. It’s surely a goal, he’s really creamed that! But Tozer makes a spectacular one-in-a-million goalline clearance! A stunning diving header! He had about 0.00000000001 seconds of reaction time to deal with that.
10 min: Mahrez fouls Clements near the centre circle and it’s another chance for the hosts to fling a free kick into the City box. It’s easily cleared by Fernandinho.
9 min: Doyle whips the free kick into the Cheltenham box. A quick bit of pinball before the ball sails into the arms of Griffiths.
8 min: The free kick’s floated into the mixer. Boyle wins a header. It drops to Thomas, who tries to Zidane a shot goalwards from a tight angle on the right. The ball loops off Garcia. Cheltenham claim a penalty for handball, but no way. City go up the other end, Mahrez illegally blocked by Freestone as he makes his way down the right.
7 min: Azaz probes down the left. City half clear, but then Jesus barges clumsily into the back of Clements, and this is a free kick, just to the left of centre, 30 yards out. Cheltenham load the box.
6 min: Cheltenham look lively in these early exchanges. Azaz slips a ball down the inside-right channel and finds May, but the striker’s gone too soon and the flag goes up for offside.
4 min: A real concern for May, who is Cheltenham’s leading scorer. But thankfully he’s up and about. A sore hand, but he looks good to continue. So Cheltenham have just about managed to bodyswerve what would have been a couple of huge early blows.
2 min: Cheltenham breathe out. Blair goes romping down the right, and fires one towards the near post. May can only slam the ball wide, and his momentum sends him crashing into the advertising hoardings. He stays down awhile, having hurt his arm.
21 seconds: City nearly take the lead, Mahrez looping down the right, Jesus breaking into the box and attempting to chip over Griffiths in the Cheltenham goal. Griffiths does extremely well to paw away. What a start that would have been.
City get the ball rolling, but only after everyone takes a knee of solidarity and love. There’s no room for racism. Kick it out.
A word with Robins boss Michael Duff: “Looking forward to it. It’s probably the biggest cup tie in the club’s history. A little bit of trepidation, but this is why we’re in the FA Cup. The message to the players is: can you walk off the pitch with pride? Don’t walk off the pitch all nice and clean, asking for somebody’s shirt. That’s not what we want to do.”
And here’s Pep Guardiola: “They have qualities that we don’t find usually. The throw will cause a lot of problems. We have to play a good game.”
Cheltenham have a lovely badge, don’t they? So nice to see the faux heraldic crest and the currently ubiquitous roundel eschewed for something a bit more abstract. These things are important, as one of the Guardian’s premier buffoons once argued.
The winners of this match will be away to Swansea City in the fifth round. The Swans have just battered Nottingham Forest, whose 62-year itch in this competition remains unscratched. John Brewin has the details of that 5-1 thumping, plus news of all the other 3pms, in today’s Clockwatch.
Cheltenham make two changes to the team named for Tuesday’s 1-1 League Two draw with Newport County. Lewis Freestone and Chris Clements take the place of the injured Chris Hussey and Ellis Chapman.
Manchester City meanwhile make ten changes from the team that beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the Premier League on Wednesday. Phil Foden is the only player to retain his place. Aymeric Laporte returns after a month out injured, while academy prospects Tommy Doyle and Taylor Harwood-Bellis are given an opportunity to show what they can do.
Cheltenham Town: Griffiths, Raglan, Tozer, Boyle, Blair, Azaz, Thomas, Clements, Freestone, May, Lloyd.
Subs: Flinders, Long, Bowry, Williams, Addai, Harris, Ebanks.
Manchester City: Steffen, Harwood-Bellis, Garcia, Laporte, Mendy, Torres, Fernandinho, Doyle, Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Foden.
Subs: Dias, Sterling, Gundogan, Zinchenko, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Ederson, Bernabe.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).
The magic of the FA Cup, distilled into its purest tincture, right here! Fourth-tier Cheltenham Town are rewarded for edging past Mansfield Town in the last round with a home tie against one of the best teams in the world: Manchester City.
It’s a David-Goliath scene all right. Pep Guardiola’s side have won their last nine matches straight, while Cheltenham have only won one of their last nine, that aforementioned win over Mansfield, and they needed extra time to achieve that. There are 82 places between these sides in the football pyramid. And even if Pep does the Big Rotate, his squad is so deep it’s difficult to see a way for Michael Duff’s men to pull off a seismic shock.
But it’s that cup magic again, and in this grand old tournament, you just never know. Set pieces, maybe. Or a determined rearguard action, the Robins somehow holding out for extra time and the sort-of-lottery of penalties. We have a good idea how this is going to pan out, but stranger things have happened in the cup. And after what happened a couple of years ago at Wigan, nobody at City will be taking Cheltenham lightly. Kick off is at 5.30pm. Pour me a shot of that magic tincture! It’s on!