City’s dreams of a big day out at the Etihad Stadium were extinguished as Championship opponents Watford eased through to the FA Cup fourth round at the second attempt.
With a trip to either Manchester City or Blackburn Rovers lying in wait for the victors, the Robins started brightly and should have taken an early lead through Sam Baldock.
But a scruffy own goal from the unfortunate Karleigh Osborne on 26 minutes gave the Hornets the opportunity to relax in front of their own supporters.
Still City kept coming, but Lewis McGugan’s second-half strike merely served to spark a succession of chances for the hosts to win by an even wider margin.
Steve Cotterill made three changes to his team who performed admirably at Bradford City three days prior, including alterations in both wing-back positions.
Brendan Moloney and Joe Bryan were reinstated at the expense of Scott Wagstaff and Greg Cunningham, while Liam Fontaine replaced Derrick Williams, who hobbled out of the Bradford clash with a hamstring complaint.
It took just two minutes for City to create a chance of gilt-edged proportions, as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas found acres of space 30 yards from goal.
Resisting the urge to hit a trademark thunderbolt, the forward instead slipped the ball in behind the Watford defence for Baldock to bear down on goal with only Jonathan Bond to beat.
It was a remarkable opportunity so early in the game, but the captain was not able to beat the Watford keeper, who spread himself well to make an important save.
You hoped it would not be a moment to regret as the night wore on, particularly as the hosts soon began to stamp their authority on proceedings.
First Lewis McGugan, a constant menace in the original tie at Ashton Gate, saw a long-range shot comfortably dealt with by Elliott Parish, before Fernando Forestieri capitalised on a loose ball to burst into the penalty area only to be halted by a superb sliding tackle from Aden Flint.
However, City were refusing to sit back and wait for Watford’s next attack – instead they were busy creating chances of their own.
Twice the visitors threatened with crosses from the left in quick succession. Following a half-cleared free kick, Marlon Pack’s diagonal back into the danger zone was headed across goal by Flint and over the top by Baldock.
Moments later, Bryan’s burst to the byeline forced Bond into an uncomfortable punch just in front of Bobby Reid, who looked to have timed his run perfectly to get his head to the ball first.
But just as at the Coral Windows Stadium, City were struggling to cope with opposition corners.
From one McGugan delivery, Troy Deeney’s glancing header was off target. It would prove only a temporary reprieve, however, as another McGugan set play was helped back across goal by Davide Faraoni and into his own net via the unfortunate Osborne.
It was an opening goal against the run of play which temporarily sapped a bit of life out of a City side who previously looked more likely to score.
But the Hornets were unable to take advantage with many sustained attacks to worry Cotterill’s men, who themselves came close to restoring parity before half-time.
Emmanuel-Thomas’ long throw was only cleared straight back to the taker, who negotiated space on the right corner of the box and drilled a low shot that Bond did well to hold on to.
Then, with the final attack of the half, Reid fed the marauding Marvin Elliott, who did brilliantly to find a cross for the youngster to slide in front of the defender to connect six yards out only for the ball to scoop off his foot and high over the crossbar.
Cotterill would have been the first to point out that City were not deserving of their deficit at the interval, and his players started the second period like a team who believed they still had every chance of progressing, as Marlon Pack hit a skidding volley which Bond had to tip around his left-hand post.
Baldock was released by Osborne soon before claiming his cutback was intercepted by the hand of Joel Ekstrand, who survived the penalty appeals that followed.
At the other end, Gabriele Angella’s piledriver was only inches wide, while Faraoni arrived on the edge of the box but sent his shot too high.
City appeared to have a moment of good fortune of their own when Flint wrestled Forestieri to the floor and got away with it, but Watford were not about to let that be the turning point in the contest.
By now the hosts were playing their best football of the night and doubled their lead on 64 minutes, as Deeney ran into trouble before the ball broke kindly for McGugan to casually roll in the Hornets’ second.
If the tie was not already put to bed, the hosts were making every effort to kill off any lingering hopes of a comeback.
Suddenly full of freedom, McGugan ran at the City defence and set up Ikechi Anya who was denied by Parish.
Next to go close was Deeney, who somehow contrived to put his shot wide from 12 yards following more good work from McGugan, before the midfielder himself hit a placed effort from the edge of the box which just veered wide.
The former Nottingham Forest man should have scored again when his sidefoot shot was comfortably gathered by Parish, while Forestieri somehow skewed one wide when it seemed easier to score.
However, with the exception of the last half hour of the tie, nobody can argue City were more than a match for last season’s Championship play-off finalists.
Time to concentrate on the league.