Most expected to see fireworks when Manchester City visited third-division Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup on Saturday. Few expected they would be literal fireworks.
The FA Cup fourth-round match, which the Premier League side rallied to win 3-1, was suspended for five minutes late in the first half as a fireworks spewed above Jonny-Rocks Stadium on Saturday. The referee halted proceedings as some of the sparks actually landed on the pitch. Fortunately, nothing caught on fire, even if players were left bemused by the display.
Unfortunately, Katy Perry didn’t pop out and start singing like she did at the end of Joe Biden’s inauguration party on Wednesday night, but it did make for an excellent not-quite-halftime show.
FIREWORKS IN THE FA CUP pic.twitter.com/eeKt0pBvHt— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 23, 2021
The fireworks started just before the 41st minute. Play didn’t resume until the final seconds of the first 45 minutes.
Zack Steffen, City’s American goalkeeper making his eighth start for the club, could only watch as the bizarre display continued above him.
The delay resulted in six minutes of stoppage time to end the first half. Nonetheless, the teams went into halftime scoreless, thanks in large part to this superb goal-line clearance.
Despite the gulf in market value between the sides, Cheltenham held its own. Center back Ben Tozer worried the City defense throughout with his long throw-ins.
In the 59th minute, against all odds, Cheltenham took the lead.
Alfie May managed to get on the end of one of Tozer’s hurls and poked it past Steffen to give the third-tier side the lead with just over half an hour to play. There’s not too much Steffen could’ve done about the goal as City’s defense seemed totally incapable of dealing with the throw.
OMGFOURTH-TIER CHELTENHAM LEAD AGAINST MAN CITY! pic.twitter.com/34TUx8sVCK
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 23, 2021
For a while, it looked like Cheltenham might hold off City.
But in the 81st minute, Phil Foden got on the end of a great cross from João Cancelo to equalize.
A couple minutes later, City scored a similar goal when Fernandinho found Gabriel Jesus open in the box and just like that the Premier League side was in front.
The Citizens made the score look far worse for Cheltenham than it was with a close-range finish from Ferrán Torres in the final minute of stoppage time.
In the end, Pep Guardiola’s side advances to the fifth round to face Jordan Morris’ Swansea City. Outside of Cheltenham, in a few years few will remember just how close Man City was to a stunning defeat. And how close the fireworks were to stealing the show.