Swindon – Premier League leaders Manchester City made light work of fourth-tier Swindon Town in a 4-1 away victory in the opening salvo of a busy weekend of FA Cup third round action today.
A full house at the County Ground had their hopes of a famous upset crushed inside the opening half hour as a strong City side struck twice through Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus.
Swindon, who have fallen on hard times since a brief membership of the Premier League in 1993-94, stuck to their guns throughout but were ultimately outclassed by City’s slickers.
City, 72 rungs above their hosts on English soccer’s ladder, took the lead when impressive teenager Cole Palmer crossed for Silva to tap home and were gifted a second in the 28th minute when Jesus converted from Kevin de Bruyne’s pass after Swindon were ruthlessly punished for trying to play out from the back.
Ilkay Gundogan stroked a pinpoint free kick around the wall to make it 3-0 in the 59th minute and Jesus had a penalty saved by Swindon keeper Lewis Ward shortly after.
If Ward’s save drew a huge cheer from the 15,000 crowd, the decibel level went through the roof with just over 10 minutes left on the clock as Swindon striker Harry McKirdy struck a well-taken consolation goal.
City, without manager Pep Guardiola in attendance because of Covid-19 but with seven of the starting line-up from their victory at Arsenal on New Year’s Day, ensured there was no late drama as Palmer picked out the top corner with a stunning left-foot shot from an acute angle.
Just as against Arsenal, City had a clutch of players unavailable because of Covid infections but their starting line-up was still packed with international quality.
It was academy product Palmer who stole the limelight, though, with a dazzling display, including a mesmerizing dribble down the right to set up Silva for the opener.
“We have him training with us on a daily basis and he has great quality, everyone can see that,” Guardiola’s assistant Rodolfo Borrell told ITV Sport.
“He is a great player, there is a lot of talent there and hopefully very soon he can start to play more minutes with us like Phil Foden did a couple of years ago.”
For Swindon, playing their first FA Cup third round tie for a decade, it was a special night even if the result was not the one they had hoped for.
Early last year they were in danger of bankruptcy and were relegated from League One and before the start of the season they were struggling to pay their staff.
But under manager Ben Garner they have impressed this season with an eye-catching possession-based style.
They remained true to their principles but were never going to beat Manchester City at their own game.
“The players in there it is a great experience for them,” Garner said. “Hopefully there is a few in there who will go on and play in the Premier League. I’d like to think they will.” ― Reuters