Football: Birthday boy James Milner leads Manchester City to comeback win

Manchester City's James Milner celebrates after scoring during their FA Cup third round soccer match against Sheffield Wednesday at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, on Sunday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS.
Manchester City's James Milner celebrates after scoring during their FA Cup third round soccer match against Sheffield Wednesday at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, on Sunday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS.

MANCHESTER (AFP) - James Milner celebrated his 29th birthday by scoring twice as Manchester City fought back to beat Championship side Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in the FA Cup third round on Sunday.

The 2011 FA Cup winners required late heroics from the England international, who showed impressive reactions in the 91st minute to steer in Jesus Navas's cross from inside the six-yard area.

It was a goal that avoided a replay, and potential embarrassment, for City manager Manuel Pellegrini, whose side had thrashed the same opponents 7-0 in the League Cup as recently as four months ago.

Although Pellegrini left a number of first-team regulars on his bench, it was still a strong line-up that fell behind to a goal by Austrian Adthe Nuhiu in the 14th minute.

The goal, on the counter-attack, was well worked, but exposed glaring deficiencies in the Premier League champions' defence as Kieran Lee gathered the ball in his own half and sent Stevie May sprinting down the right wing.

He was able to pick out the towering Nuhiu, unmarked in the area, and the Wednesday target man finished clinically with a first-time shot from 15 yards.

It was a sloppy start for a City side coming off the back of unconvincing home performances against Burnley and Sunderland over the festive period.

Indeed, despite the hosts enjoying over 70 per cent of possession, the first half came and went without City mustering a single shot on target.

Man of the moment Frank Lampard appeared well positioned to rectify that on 26 minutes as he cleverly created space for himself from Stevan Jovetic's pass, but his effort rolled wide of goal.

Milner and Navas both missed the mark from distance before City fell behind and, as they attempted to level, Fernando's free header from a corner was well off target.

Yaya Toure - making his last appearance before leaving City for a month on Africa Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast - bustled through to the edge of the area from where he also shot well wide.

And there was brief hope of a second goal for the visiting Wednesday supporters as Jacques Maghoma broke away down the right and centred for May, whose shot from 30 yards flew wide of the left-hand upright.

Nuhiu proved a handful again at the start of the second half, setting up half-chances for Claude Dielna and Lee that caused anxiety in the home defence.

Aside from Lampard almost turning a Navas cross into the net, City were scarcely improved in attack.

By the hour mark Pellegrini was sufficiently frustrated to bring on both David Silva and Samir Nasri, giving City an even stronger and more potent attacking arsenal.

Predictably, City's equaliser, in the 66th minute, featured both substitutes as Silva steered Nasri's pass into the path of Milner, who guided his shot past Chris Kirkland and into the far corner of the net.

Wednesday remained resolute and their own substitute, Caolan Lavery, helped on Nuhiu's pass for Liam Palmer, who, under intense pressure, could only shoot into the side-netting.

The focus remained largely on the visitors' goal, with Milner denied by a block at close range and a succession of City corners placing the second-tier side under increasing pressure.

But Navas, of all people, was required to make a superb covering tackle six yards from goal to stop Maghoma in his tracks after another impressive counter-attack and through ball from Jeremy Helan.

Toure curled an attempt just wide of the right-hand post as City re-asserted control and sought a face-saving winner, while Kirkland saved well from Silva before Milner settled the tie in added time.