Ah, the FA Cup. Remember when we used to hate it because we couldn’t beat a carpet, let alone a football team, as soon as the first or third round came along? Now it seems as though we just love it, want to have its babies. For the second time in three seasons, City are in the fifth round after a comprehensive victory that brought joy to the amber and black masses and left the climate-change maniacs scratching their hipster beards.
More than 2,700 City fans took over the South Stand at Gigg Lane for the tie, which despite the intense cold, threatened to boil over thanks to scalliedom on both sides who mistook bravado and posturing for anything close to actual toughness. It was ludicrous stuff on both sides, really, although the pre-match needle and the smoke bombs from the south east corner (their fans, not ours) did at least raise the atmosphere with precision timing as the teams emerged.
Steve Bruce made 11 changes for a game that took the Tiger Nation back to a regular haunt during the numerous bab ‘n’ Bovril seasons previous generations have gone through, and included was 16 year old left back Josh Tymon, who was born on FA Cup final day 1999, putting him at an age that made the fans realise how bloody old they now were.
One hopes that Tymon wasn’t a token upgrading from the youth set-up, especially as he turned in a mature, assured display that suggests that Bruce’s buttering of him in the press beforehand wasn’t just idle talk. Notwithstanding the occasion and the limitations of the opponent, this boy clearly has a future.
The game kicked off in biting January winds and a spot of sleet, with every other available weather condition in Bill Giles’ glossary putting in a cameo appearance during the match. It was Bury who attacked strongest from the start though, when Danny Mayor launched an attack from the left wing, played a one-two and gave Danny Rose a shooting chance with the City defence sucked in, but the shot hit Eldin Jakupović’s feet.
City responded with a flowing move through the mud and frost courtesy of a great pass on the turn from Adama Diomande to feed the run of David Meyler. The Irishman should’ve scored but his shot hit sprawling keeper Ian Lawlor. The rebound fell instantly to Chuba Akpom whose instincts were excellent, and the rebound trundled into the net.
The early goal, much needed. Sone Aluko, otherwise quiet and frustrating, lashed a great effort inches wide of the post from distance soon afterwards, while Meyler had a header from a Ryan Taylor corner cleared off the line.
In the second half, the fineness of the game’s margins were proved in one dramatic minute. Mayor took a crossfield ball from Soares and, with City backing off, shot for goal. Ryan Lowe stepped forward to make sure of the ball’s destiny as Jakupović dived to block, and as the ball hit the net a number of Bury fans capered with glee around pitch surrounds, with one ludicrous individual going on to the pitch to goad the City fans. Sadly, none of them had noticed the linesman’s flag.
Their rage at falling to what (admittedly) looked a rather uncharitable offside call was confounded a minute later when Aluko grappled his way to the byline, despite being second favourite, before tumbling as a leg from Reece Brown tried to clip the ball. Akpom sent Lawlor the wrong way from the spot.
Akpom’s third came 15 minutes later, by which time Bury’s deflation was obvious. It was just as obvious that Akpom took the moment to enjoy himself as he took Aluko’s diagonal ball and dropped the shoulder twice to cut in on to his right foot and steer a fine shot beyond Lawlor. Two hat-tricks for City players in three games, lovely stuff.
Bruce, true to type, made three substitutions that took City a little further back each time, and Jakupović was finally beaten (after spending most of the game removing the stalactites from his eyelids) when Craig Jones stabbed in from close range with four minutes left after Mayor crossed to the far post.
The four minutes added were spent mainly on the edge of the City penalty area, and if Bury had managed another the scoreline would have looked ridiculous on numerous counts, but they didn’t. The final whistle was greeted with glee and not even much of a sense of relief, as City never looked like being ripe for a fall. The fifth round draw beckons and a jolly fine day was had. Mud, snow, needle and great personal achievements for Akpom and Tymon, whose own substitution towards the end produced an ovation he’ll remember forever.
It was professional and that’s all that you can ask for when pitched against a lower league side, smelling blood on their own patch in adverse weather. City weren’t always comfortable, and a couple of personalities didn’t do their chances of regular Championship football any good, but it was evident after the opening goal who was going to boss the game.
Taylor and Diomande (his pass for the opener aside) weren’t at the races at all, though Taylor wasn’t helped by a couple of formation changes that seemed to be as much about finding where he can do the least damage as much as anything. But there was much goodness about City; Tymon was sparkling for a boy not yet shaving more than twice a week, while Aluko had a good second half, Meyler was his usual indefatigable self and, of course, Akpom earned himself a match ball and a shot of confidence that might come in handy when a Plan B up front in the Championship is required.
Steve Bruce’s weird brilliance without trying in domestic cups continues; having taken us to history-making phases of both competitions in his time as Tigers manager, he’s now almost accidentally shoved us into the last 16 of the FA Cup while simultaneously putting us top of the Championship. We’re less likely to make the final this time unless we’re treated to draws as generous as those in 2014, but a nice run in both competitions this season can only galvanise the squad’s main raison d’être, even if the individuals involved change each time.
We’ll await the draw with our usual keen interest, and in the meantime start thinking about our next duel with the M66 with the somewhat more daunting trip to Burnley.