Premier League champions Manchester City visited League Two outfit Newport County in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and the void in quality was telling as the Citizens romped to a 4-1 victory.
There’s a case to say the scoreline was harsh on Newport, who held their own in a goalless first-half and maintained similar standards for the majority of the second before flashes of individual brilliance proved too much for the Exiles’ defence to cope with.
Leroy Sané opened the scoring as a powerful effort rebounded off County goalkeeper Joe Day, and City’s advantage was doubled after a superb solo goal from teenage prodigy Phil Foden. Newport clawed a goal back with Pádraig Amond’s lofted effort, but all hope of a dramatic comeback was slashed with late strikes from Foden and Riyad Mahrez.
City join Watford, Brighton & Hove Albion and Millwall in the hat for Monday night’s quarter-final draw, with four games still to play in this round of the competition.
Story of the game
Prior to kick-off, there was a tribute held in memory of legendary England goalkeeper Gordon Banks who passed away at the age of 81 during the week — all corners of Rodney Parade united in a minute’s applause.
Newport hadn’t read the script and piled early pressure on City’s goal. A surging run from Amond saw him latch onto the ball with only Ederson standing in the way of the goal, however John Stones recovered well to cut out the threat.
The away side then utilised their own long-ball tactic, feeding Mahrez who controlled immaculately but was tackled well by Dan Butler. Seconds later, the Algerian weaved his way back into the box, his right-footed shot forcing the first save of the game from Day.
Fernandinho then tackled Tyreeq Bakinson in midfield before surging towards goal, but his powerful effort caught on the rough surface and trickled wide of the post.
From the first 12 minutes of play, City had enjoyed a staggering 84% of the possession. But this statistic is deceiving — Newport were very much in the running, and nearly took an unimaginable lead when Bakinson headed from a long-throw scenario, forcing Ederson to leap across the goalmouth to keep the scores even.
The Wales-based outfit nearly benefitted from another long throw five minutes later. Jamille Matt flicked the ball on for Joss Labadie who swung his left foot at a half-volley, however the effort was high and wide of the Brazilian’s goal.
Newport were defending resiliently. They were excellent in aerial duels and compensated for the quality deficit by displaying the infectious fearlessness that truly embodies the spirit of the cup. However, the game petered out a little — City dominated possession, while the early chances dried up for the Exiles.
Yet, as Rotherham United and Burnley have already discovered in this year’s competition, the champions of England are capable of flicking a switch and subsequently opening up any defence at will. Sané played an incisive one-two with David Silva before sprinting past the defensive line and firing at goal. Day was stranded, but the ball crashed against the crossbar and flew over.
City increased the pressure in the latter stages of the first-half. Intricate interplay from Foden, Silva and Mahrez saw the ball cut across goal for Sané but Newport managed to clear their lines. Moments later, the German had another chance as he worked his way into the box and unleashed a strike at goal. The ball was blocked by the arm of Mark O’Brien, but City’s strong penalty claims were waved away by man in the middle Andre Marriner.
A rocking Rodney Parade witnessed a goalless first-half, but that suited Exiles fans down to the ground. Not many teams can prevent City’s £317m worth of talent from hitting the back of the net in 45 minutes of football.
However, the breakthrough came soon after the restart. Gabriel Jesus played Sané down the left flank and the 23-year old powered a shot goalwards. Day made himself look large but the ball struck his face and trickled over the line. The inevitable had finally occurred.
City weren’t content with their one-goal advantage and smelt blood following the opening goal. Full-back Danilo then had two strikes at goal, the first saved well by Newport’s 28-year old stopper before the other struck the upright.
Pep Guardiola’s men controlled proceedings in the aftermath of Sané’s goal. There was an ease to their passing and fluidity to their movement, both of which were becoming too much to handle for a tiring Newport side. However, they showed complacency in the 67th minute as Ederson attempted to pass out from the back — the ball bobbled horribly but the Brazilian managed to clear before Newport’s forward line could capitalise.
As the game entered its final 20 minutes, a set-piece from Newport was met by O’Brien who set up Robbie Wilmott. The hero of the Exiles’ fourth round win over Middlesbrough headed towards goal, but the save was comfortable for Ederson.
The away side then surged up the pitch. Foden picked the ball up in his own half, evading a tackle in midfield before reaching the Newport box, shimmying away from Butler and dispatching the ball past Day. City had earned their desired two-goal lead and looked destined to ease to victory.
With less than two minutes of regulation time to play, Newport pulled a goal back. Aymeric Laporte failed to deal with a troublesome long-ball which fell kindly for Amond — the Irishman lofted an exquisite toe-poke over Ederson and into the net, bursting the roof off Rodney Parade.
Yet the home faithful’s celebrations were cut short just a minute later when Foden rounded off a mazy run by smashing the ball home and, in the process, killing all doubt that City would advance. Mahrez added the final goal at the end of stoppage time as Stones, operating as a converted holding midfielder, chipped the ball through to the Algerian who powered in at Day’s near post.
Marriner’s whistle drew the curtain on a magical but ultimately predictable night in the FA Cup.
Takeaways from the match
The headlines will be City’s after such an emphatic numerical victory, yet Newport’s gallant efforts against such elite opposition deserve considerable acknowledgement.
Holding the champions of England for the entirety of the first-half was a notable achievement for a side who are enduring a fairly mediocre campaign in League Two.
Matt and Amond were a thorn in City’s defence, Wilmott provided a formidable creative spark and, while Day did pick the ball out of his own net four times, he was proactive between the sticks and produced a number of saves to keep his side in contention.
Though this is the end of a magical cup run for the Exiles, Mike Flynn and his squad will take encouragement from such a successful campaign and will hope to improve their league standing by the end of the season in May.
Foden shines brightest of wealth of talent
Guardiola fielded a strong team, packed with heaps of technical ability, and many were anticipating the eventual romping that the Citizens were able to muster.
Silva controlled the midfield, Sané and Mahrez were threatening from the flanks, and Danilo found himself in dangerous attacking areas on numerous occasions — but the most notable showing came from the teenage sensation, Foden.
Notching two sumptuous solo efforts, the 18-year old patrolled central areas alongside Silva and was equally effervescent in defence as he was in attack. Guardiola will be delighted that minutes in the cup are paying off for City’s most promising young talent.
The attention of Newport and Flynn now returns to league action until the end of the season, starting with a visit to Notts County on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, City will have their eyes peeled for Monday evening’s quarter-final draw before a visit to Schalke 04 in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.