After toppling Manchester United, Bristol City set sights on 'beasts' of Manchester City
Championship club moved into the League Cup semi-finals after a dramatic late winner from Korey Smith.
After fashioning the sensation of the English football season with a League Cup triumph over Manchester United, Bristol City manager Lee Johnson knows there could only be one way to top a win over Jose Mourinho - and that is by beating Pep Guardiola.
The cheering was still reverberating at the Ashton Gate home of the second tier Championship club on Wednesday after their last-gasp 2-1 quarter-final win over the Premier League giants when the semi-final draw offered them an even giddier follow-up.
For Bristol City's reward on one of the finest nights in their 123-year history was to set up the prospect of another when Guardiola's Manchester City, Europe's team of the moment, visit them in a last four, second leg tie in January.
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Johnson was asked how it felt to be presented with the hardest task in English football against a side unbeaten this season.
"It's brilliant," he said. "We move on now. We didn't show United too much respect. Now it's on to Manchester City over two legs and there's another chance for the players to test themselves against another elite group. City are a beast of an organisation."
The beasts who have been devouring all opponents this season, though, may find Ashton Gate as tricky and oppressive a venue as Mourinho's men, who became Bristol City's fourth Premier League victims of their inspired Cup run.
The key will be managing to stay in the tie in a testing first leg at City's Etihad Stadium early in the New Year.
If they can keep any away-day deficit down to manageable proportions, Johnson's team could cause a few problems in the return at their tight Bristol fortress.
The exultant scenes that greeted Korey Smith's 93rd minute winner would, said Johnson, "live in the memory of this football club for many years."
His father Gary was one of City's more successful managers when Lee was a player at the club.
"But I think tonight was the greatest moment in both of our tenures," said Johnson, whose team are pushing for promotion in third place.
"My dad always says he was the most successful Bristol City manager so maybe I've pushed him a little bit close with that result.
"The players have been phenomenal. It's a young group with real quality and energy and every single one of them will go down in the folklore of Bristol City football club."
None more so than Joe Bryan, a popular Bristolian and product of the club's academy, whose wonderful second-half strike had put Bristol City ahead before Zlatan Ibrahimovic's equalising free kick looked likely to inspire a United comeback win.
Still, Bristol City kept believing and were rewarded by Smith's superbly taken left-foot winner on the turn in the final seconds.
Mourinho, while praising Bristol City for playing "the game of their lives", could not quite bring himself to offer unqualified admiration as he kept suggesting the home side were "lucky" to survive with Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford hitting the woodwork.
Yet he understood this was City's night, "a beautiful night for football".
Published: December 21, 2017 09:15 AM