Eight minutes of scintillating football, immense work in the press and pure skill saw an insatiable Manchester City score thrice to come back from behind before half-time in an FA Cup Fifth Round replay against Huddersfield Town, going on to score twice more in the second half.
Ironic cheers from the Man City support as Claudio Bravo spilt a shot from Jack Payne at the end of the first half followed the Chilean goalkeeper continuing to fail to impress after his manager Pep Guardiola insisted he will stick by his controversial summer signing, allowing Huddersfield to take a sixth-minute lead.
Bravo still uncertain, but City attack sublime
Guardiola asserted during the week that Joe Hart will not play for the Citizens again, but his decision last August to sell the Englishman and replace him in the starting line-up with Bravo came under fire once again thanks to another unconvincing display from the former-Barcelona shot-stopper.
David Wagner's high-energy press was clear from the start despite the German manager sitting in the stands due to a suspension. City were not used to facing the style they use a variation of, and misplaced passes weren't uncommon. Huddersfield had the same number of City academy graduates starting as the hosts; one. It was that one, Harry Bunn, who brought the red of embarrassment to Claudio Bravo again.
City's attack, of course, had started excellently; powerful, skilful, smooth. Yet the defence left gaps open, as they always do, and the man between the sticks behind them could not deal with the consequences as Bravo has never been able to. Huddersfield swept across the pitch, countering as City committed men forward early.
Phillip Billing, the young midfielder standing out throughout the 90 minutes, instinctively tapped the ball lightly to Bunn on the edge of the box. The ex-City man took it in his stride and powerfully stroked it immediately through the legs of Bravo. Wagner roared from his seat in the stands.
Though Huddersfield came with more faith in their own abilities than most other teams at the Etihad, that didn't prevent them from sitting back resolutely. And though they did do so resolutely, the Terriers could not handle City's intensity and skill.
Huddersfield take game to City early on, but crumble in 8-minute spell
They lasted an impressive 24 minutes before crumbling to a two-goal deficit. Every single one of City's players committed themselves to the comeback. Of course, time was aplenty, but the work which previously lambasted players such as Sergio Agüero put in was notable. It paid off, Huddersfield simply could not hold out for the full first half, passes began to be misplaced, clearances were continually sliced or missed.
Before City moved into the lead, the referee became the centre of attention for a frustrated City side and support at the Etihad, waving away initial claims as Kevin de Bruyne swiftly moved into the box, sent a defender flying across the wet surface with a feint, did so again to a second defender whose hand was hit by the ball.
Five penalty appeals were to be made in the first half, some of them with little confidence, others with outrage. Either the law must be clearer on handling in the penalty area or video technology must be brought in.
Sterling and Sané combine for equaliser
Raheem Sterling was the key to breaking Huddersfield down, befuddling two defenders, poking the ball through one's legs, moving around the stationary man and poking it once more, this time to the on running Leroy Sané who finished easily. As soon as the ball had floated out to Sterling on the wing, Sané had begun his run. Their partnership continues to blossom.
Referee Paul Tierney finally awarded City a penalty for the clearest of the lot, Stankovic pulled down Nicolas Otamendi as the Argentine waited for a wonderful floated cross to reach him. Agüero made no mistake, a powerful finish to the goalkeeper's left, high in the goal, Coleman dived the wrong way.
Three minutes later, the City attack had another reward. Agüero fought to assist for Pablo Zabaleta having hit the right post after excellent pressing to win the ball from Gaël Clichy. Having been out of the starting line-up earlier in the season because of his work rate, or lack thereof, Guardiola applauded Agüero's intensity and pressure on a number of occasions on Wednesday evening. As Sterling had done minutes earlier, Aguüero entered the penalty area on the right, cut it back and Zabaleta finished with ease for a third goal in eight minutes.
City's dominance in the first half may not have been reflected in the scoreline had Jack Payne been able to come up with a better finish than he did in the final minute of the half. As he went one-on-one, though under pressure from behind, with Bravo, he hit his strike immediately at the Chilean. As only Bravo does, though, he still managed to make a three-course meal of it, spilling it in front of Payne and almost for a corner.
City remained hungry for goals after the break and were allowed chances by Huddersfield, tiring despite a number of changes from Wagner who has used rotation extraordinarily effectively for the Championship's 3rd-placed team.
But for Guardiola's side, the final ball was too often a yard-off, too far forward or too far back. More importantly, the fluid, slick football very blatant when watching Guardiola's City team does not run throughout the side. While the incredible front three of Sterling, Agüero and Sané continued to be superb, when the players behind them are asked to be on the same wavelength, they cannot be.
As Sterling twisted and turned away from the attention of three players in the penalty area, somehow retaining possession of the ball, Fernandinho couldn't recognise the ball soon to be played and hit and Sterling's push back towards the edge of the box went loose.
Agüero completed an excellent performance, though, with a second goal to make it two consecutive games with a double for the Argentine striker, now fully back to his superb scoring ways. De Bruyne moved the ball wide to Sterling, speedy in movement across the pitch and when stationary, with his feet, who took one touch to set it up, one to cross and Aguero finished first-time across the goal.
Iheanacho scores in final seconds
Guardiola eventually took his main man off, at 78 minutes, for Kelechi Iheanacho, finally back in the City side, and Agüero went off to a standing ovation and his name being chanted around the Etihad, then emptying with the result clear. Those who left will have missed the instinctive finish of Iheanacho to make it a second consecutive home game for City with five goals scored, poking it home in the final second. City will face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup quarter-final as silverware remains very achievable.