LONDON • Bristol City suffered stoppage-time heartbreak in their League Cup semi-final, first-leg tie at Manchester City on Tuesday but played better than most Premier League teams who visit the Etihad Stadium, according to the home side's manager Pep Guardiola.
The second-tier visitors had taken the lead with a penalty from Bobby Reid before the break and then held on for dear life after Kevin de Bruyne equalised.
Yet Sergio Aguero's last-gasp goal gave City a 2-1 lead with the return game in two weeks' time.
"My players were fantastic because in football, you can win, you can lose but we try until the end," Guardiola said.
"We win many games in the last minutes because we don't give up. A semi-final is always complicated.
"I said congratulations to (Bristol manager) Lee Johnson on full-time. They are a fantastic team for many reasons. They can play, they are fast, they know exactly what to do.
Goals Bristol City have scored in this season's League Cup, more than any other team in the competition. Twelve of their 17 goals have come against Premier League opposition.
"It's a benefit to football when two teams take to the pitch and they want to play. Then we're sure it's going to be a good match.
"The way that Bristol City played was good for the show. It will be tough in Bristol."
City's late strike was a gut-wrenching blow for Johnson, whose team had already knocked four top-flight sides out of the Cup.
"Pep Guardiola said to me that we played better than most of the Premier League teams that come to City," Johnson told Sky Sports.
"We'll take an awful lot from it and learn. It is not over. It will be an interesting game at Ashton Gate.
"The away goal was very important. We tried to score and certainly didn't park the bus. The lads have to go home and think we can kick on from this performance."
The applause for Bristol's effort at the final whistle - not just from their own fans, but the home supporters too - indicated that they had indeed performed in a manner that few of City's visitors in the league have dared to this term.
Conquerors of Manchester United in the quarter-finals, Bristol showed no fear and plenty of enterprise, defending spiritedly and breaking intelligently.
The half-time statistics even showed that Bristol had three shots on target - one more than City at that stage.
But Guardiola's men had dominated possession, just short of 66 per cent, and had 13 shots, some of them presentable opportunities, to their opponents' six.
Bristol's resistance was finally broken by de Bruyne 10 minutes into the second half and, after they had done so much right, Johnson will rue how the Belgian was left unmarked to score.
However, Bristol can proudly say they were doing more than just riding their luck by the final whistle.
As Aden Flint, the Bristol centre-back, said: "We are disappointed to concede late on, but we can hold our heads high. We've taken probably the best team in the world almost all the way."
Off the pitch, City are set to open preliminary talks with forward Raheem Sterling next month regarding a new deal.
The England international's deal expires in the summer of 2020, and he now earns around £170,000 (S$306,768) weekly and can expect a rise of at least £50,000 a week, along with incentives that would push his salary beyond the £250,000-a-week mark.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS