GUARDIOLA had to send for the cavalry to spare Manchester City’s blushes last night.
Until Aguero’s winner, Lee Johnson’s Championship battlers looked to have done what only two teams in the Premier League have failed to do this season – stop City from winning.
But even with their slender lead, Guardiola’s super stars will need to be at their very best if they are to avoid becoming the latest giant killing scalp taken by the Robins on their remarkable run this season.
The 2-1 result leaves the semi-final tie intriguingly balanced for the second leg at Ashton Gate in a fortnight’s time.
City only have to watch the tape of Robins’ win over neighbours Manchester United to see what they will face in the west country.
Bobby Reid’s penalty gave the Robins the lead just before half-time. That was cancelled out by Kevin de Bruyne early in the second half and City looked as if they would go on and establish a commanding lead for the second leg.
It was the biggest cup occasion for the Championship club since they were beaten by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the last four of this competition in 1988-89.
And their giant-killing exploits had sparked cup fever among their fans with 7,680 making the trip up from the south-west – a record away contingent since City moved to the Etihad in 2004. Their enthusiasm was not matched by home followers however, with plenty of seats left empty.
The Robins went into the game as the top scorers in this season’s Carabao Cup – with 16 goals from just 32 shots on target – although their form since their shock win over United has not been great.
Three successive defeats did not appear to have dented their confidence though in a first half when they showed they were not daunted by the runaway Premier League leaders.
And it was certainly not a simple containment exercise. Joe Bryan and Marlon Pack both forced good saves out of Claudio Bravo, while the Robins worried City by winning a number of corners.
Bravo picked out De Bruyne with a clearance, the City skipper ran 50 yards unchallenged before slipping the ball out to Sterling whose first time return pass was fired home by De Bruyne.
For the first time Robins looked rattled. Flint had to obstruct De Bruyne after leaving a back pass short and was booked and he was relieved when De Bruyne crashed the free-kick against the wall.
Sane’s dangerous free-kick was scrambled away and Sterling’s close range effort from De Bruyne’s cross was saved by fielding before Sane was off target with another shot.
It was the signal for Guardiola to send on the cavalry in the shape of Sergio Aguero in the hope of snatching a winner and the little Argentinian didn’t let his boss or his team down with his 19th goal of the season.