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Report: Bristol City 4-1 Stevenage

City recorded their most handsome victory of 2013 in their final match of the calendar year as struggling Stevenage were put to the sword by an on-song home team at Ashton Gate.

Greg Cunningham, Sam Baldock and a Jay Emmanuel-Thomas brace completed a four-star display, before Francois Zoko’s consolation goal added an air of respectability to the visitors’ efforts.

But the day will be forever remembered for a completely different story, as three minutes from time Louis Carey entered the field to stand alone as his hometown club’s record appearance holder.

It was the perfect end to a difficult year for the club, who are beginning to show signs that a much more promising 2014 could yet lie in wait.

Whilst the Premier League big boys might have toyed with their options over the festive season, Steve Cotterill made just one enforced change to his side victorious over Walsall on Boxing Day.

Marlon Pack, who picked up his fifth booking of the campaign that day, gave way for Marvin Elliott, while Jordan Wynter was back on the bench.

But the absence of Pack, who had missed only one previous game in all competitions since his summer arrival from Cheltenham Town, was not noticeable early on as City raced out of the blocks.

It was Cunningham, boasting just one career goal at the start of play, who climbed highest at the back post to head home Scott Wagstaff’s seventh minute cross and lift any remaining tension inside Ashton Gate.

Within five minutes the lead was doubled and the Robins had back-to-back victories in their sights, as Emmanuel-Thomas latched on to a poor defensive header to breeze past the last defender and square the ball for Baldock to slide home his 12th goal of the season.

In fairness to Stevenage, the visitors did not roll over despite such a nightmare start. Lively winger Luke Freeman turned Simon Gillett before letting fly with a fierce shot Elliott Parish did well to turn aside.

Cotterill’s side also had to survive a couple of uncomfortable scrambles inside the penalty area to keep their clean sheet intact.

At the other end, Cunningham sprung down the left and played a deep cross towards Baldock, who peeled away from his man and connected with a sidefoot volley which was only just too high. It would have been a brilliant third goal.

Freeman remained the danger for Stevenage going forwad, and his right-footed cross found its way to Francois Zoko whose volley struck Karleigh Osborne and deflected behind for a corner.

From Greg Tansey’s ensuing cross, Parish was at full stretch to reach Jordan Burrow’s downward header, which looked for all the world like it was bouncing into the corner of the net.

There was a real energy about both sides in what was an entertaining spectacle between two teams at the wrong end of the Sky Bet League One table.

Elliott was having a fine game in midfield, even threading an inch perfect pass out to Cunningham on the wing, whose pull back to Reid invited a finish to an excellent team move, but the midfielder was charged down quickly and the chance came and went.

Having threatened in fits and starts in the first half, Stevenage came out after the interval full of intent.

Left-back Roarie Deacon cut inside and let fly with a shot Parish did well to keep out at his near post with a stooping save, while unpredictable striker Zoko lifted the ball over the head of Osborne only to steer his shot wide from ten yards.

Midway through the second period, with the points still up for grabs, Freeman burst into the box and hit a low shot which beat Parish but not his right-hand post, as the ball cannoned back into the danger zone but, fortunately, not into the path of a black-shirted opponent.

It was a reprieve City would take full advantage of, as Baldock surged to the byeline and returned the favour to his strike partner, as Emmanuel-Thomas helped himself to a tap in from the middle of the six-yard box.

But the best was yet to come from the Robins’ top scorer, who produced something quite magnificent to put the gloss on an already handsome victory 18 minutes from time.

Picking the ball up inside his own half, some quick feet from the forward conjured a clever offload to Wagstaff, whose return pass invited defenders to back away and Emmanuel-Thomas to shape a delicious 25-yard shot inside the far post.

Any hopes of a clean sheet were extinguished as Freeman, who deserved something for his efforts, cut the ball back for Zoko to convert a clinical consolation.

Emmanuel-Thomas looked like completing his hat-trick with a glancing header on Reid’s inswinging free kick only for Stevenage to make a goal-line clearance.

But by now the big story was unfolding off the pitch. Brendan Moloney and Wes Burns had already entered the fray, but three minutes from time, history was made.

Greeted by rapturous applause from four sides of Ashton Gate, Carey replaced Gillett in perhaps the most iconic City substitution Cotterill will ever make.

The main man’s only notable contribution on appearance number 646 was an unceremonious clearance across the face of his own goal in stoppage time, but it is his efforts over the past 18 years which will remain ingrained in the memory of countless City fans for many years to come.

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