City 1 Brentford 1
City have played more football than anyone in the country this season – and they will have to squeeze in yet another game after last night’s second-round FA Cup clash with Brentford ended in stalemate.
James Hanson’s second goal in successive outings ensured they are still unbeaten in all knock-out competitions.
His close-range strike stretched that impressive run to eight – and cancelled out the League One side’s opener from local lad Clayton Donaldson.
City were transformed after a treble change on the hour as Phil Parkinson threw on the cavalry. It was a bold throw of the dice which so nearly paid off.
But it does mean a replay at Griffin Park on Tuesday, December 18, sandwiched between equally lengthy league trips to Southend and Wycombe.
That is hardly the build-up to Christmas that anyone would have wanted – but the prospect of a third-round FA Cup money-spinner remains.
This was already City’s 28th game of a jam-packed campaign – a relentless schedule that has also included four extra-times and three penalty shoot-outs.
So once again Phil Parkinson gave his pack a bit of a shuffle and handed debuts to loan deadline-day signings Blair Turgott and Curtis Good.
Alan Connell and Ricky Ravenhill were the other changes from the Bristol Rovers draw but those left out were all on the bench as the City chief kept plenty in reserve.
Turgott got an early chance to cross after Connell forced an error from Jake Bidwell. But Hanson’s attempted volley was blocked by Bees skipper Tony Craig.
Garry Thompson, playing on the left, was bundled over 25 yards from goal but Connell’s free-kick floated high into the deserted TL Dallas Stand.
Turgott made a confident start and linked well with Connell, whose effort cannoned off the imposing figure of Toumani Diagouraga.
Matt Duke’s only concern in the opening quarter was to carefully tip over a Donaldson cross that went spinning goalwards off Good.
Richard Lee, recalled in Brentford’s goal, was equally redundant as there was an absence of any goalmouth action to warm the fans who had braved the sub-zero temperature.
City were comfortably holding their own against higher-division opponents – something they had demonstrated time and again in their cup exploits already.
Duke was finally forced into action after 35 minutes, turning away a low drive by Harry Forrester.
Brentford won a gaggle of corners which City saw off. But their resistance was broken two minutes before the break and inevitably it was Donaldson who made them pay with his 11th goal of the campaign.
Brentford broke from their own half through Adam Forshaw and Paul Hayes. Ravenhill slipped in trying to make a challenge and the ball ricocheted past Good into the path of the striker.
The Manningham-born frontman, who had snubbed Peter Jackson’s advances to sign for the West London club the summer before last, was on to it in a flash and rifled past Duke into the bottom corner.
Donaldson then angered the Kop with his goal celebration by “shushing” the fans, ensuring a loud jeer when he next chased for possession.
Donaldson had another chance at the start of the second half but headed over from a Sam Saunders corner.
Connell instantly went clear but was pegged back by an offside flag as he accelerated away.
It was threatening to become the Donaldson show and the striker cleverly spun away from James Meredith’s clutches to shoot on the turn from Saunders’ pass. But Duke was equal to it, spreading himself well to make an excellent save.
City responded with a corner of their own but Good’s shot from the loose ball was a typical centre half’s effort and flew over.
It was time to call for the cavalry and Parkinson went for bust in the 61st minute by making all three substitutions.
Top scorer Nahki Wells, Gary Jones and Will Atkinson came on for Connell, Ravenhill and Thompson – the changes bringing an immediate increase in volume.
The difference was noticeable straight away. Lee just managed to finger away a cross by Atkinson and then stood strong at his near post to beat out a Wells shot.
Brentford did not have such an assured air about their play and right back Shaleum Logan was the first name in the book for a late challenge on Atkinson.
And City’s growing control was rewarded with an equaliser from Hanson with 20 minutes left.
It owed a lot to Atkinson’s good work on the left wing, working the room for Meredith’s cross. Brentford made a mess of the clearance as Turgott tried to reach Hanson’s knockdown and the ball dropped for the striker to rifle his second goal in a week from ten yards.
The pattern of the game had changed completely, with City now in the ascendancy.
Jones fired just over and Hanson held off Diagouraga but could not keep his shot down.
Then Duke had to be diligent at the other end with a save from Logan after Meredith had slipped over in the box.
But City thought they had got their noses in front when Hanson’s flick on dropped for Wells to poke past Lee.
The ball bounced against the foot of the post and, as the Bermudian was poised to tap home the rebound, Diagouraga appeared with a goal-saving interception.
Both sides pushed for a decisive late strike to avoid the extra game and City spent the bulk of the four added minutes deep in Brentford territory.
But the stalemate remained and that’s one more Tuesday night taken up on the calendar.