All the wonderful inequalities of the FA Cup distilled into one cold afternoon. Here was the world's oldest club facing the richest; the one with players worth considerably less than £50,000 against City's £152m; the club that watched the prospect of boundless financial riches float off down the Trent last year, against the one whose saviours have stayed around rather longer. And the most deeply symbolic moment came at the end, when that ritual FA Cup shirt-exchange moment arrived. Edin Dzeko and James Milner handed theirs over but didn't wait around to take anything in exchange.
An occasion like this also requires one of those quintessential FA Cup talismen – its own Ronnie Radford – and on a pitch with the properties of a 1972 Edgar Street, Neal Bishop served the purpose as well as he did a job for manager Paul Ince.
Bishop didn't even make it out of non-League until he was 26, and hadn't scored all season until his looping header gave County the whiff of an upset. Having scored just 15 goals in nine years of football, he can comfortably count this as his most precious.
"I'll replay it over and over again," said the 29-year-old, whose peripatetic non-League career took him around Gateshead, Whitby, Scarborough and York before Barnet offered him the big time a few years back.
"It's actually my first goal in about two years. It's a good job I've got a bald patch or it would have gone over the bar," he added.
Of course, the one piece of history which no one can take away from Meadow Lane is the Juventus connection, the Turin club having taken a fancy to Notts County's black and white stripes and copied them.
"It's just like watching Juve," the home fans chanted during the 23-minute spell when their side led. But one of the virtues of having a squad with the depth of City's is the potential it offers for late salvation. Just ask Juventus – a club who twice surrendered leads against City in this season's Europa League group stage and are now out of that competition.
Certainly, the City of old would have capitulated to Bishop's goal, which came just before the hour and just after a heavy Pablo Zabaleta challenge on Lee Hughes sent up calls for a debatable penalty. They had lost to lower league opposition from around these parts – Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United – in two of the previous three years.
The heads don't drop these days, though. There is a winning belief. With a Carlos Tevez back injury keeping him out, it was David Silva who made the critical difference before Micah Richards delivered a game-changing moment: one of those searing bursts of pace that have seen him outstay so many other City academy graduates.
The virtue of the 81st-minute cross that followed from Richards was that the unpredictable surface did not intervene before Dzeko volleyed it into the roof of the net; his first goal since arriving for £27m.
Manager Roberto Mancini said that it would take Dzeko "four or five games" to adjust to the Premier League and County's rumbustuous approach to the occasion certainly seemed discomfiting. For an instant, on the half-hour mark, Dzeko seemed to have found his feet, spinning around Mike Edwards and then shaping to shoot. Defender Krystian Pearce, who is 21 and is now at his seventh club, intervened with a tackle that was of pure Premier league quality.
Ince's front man, Alan Gow, provided yet more evidence that 59 league places between FA Cup sides don't always reveal the full story. He was not fully fit when he won the free-kick that he sent inches wide of Joe Hart's left post in the opening moments.
In a game where the football was more monochrome than the occasion, Richards shone the brightest of all, showing the bursts of attacking pace that have helped him survive while his fellow academy graduates have disappeared, one-by-one. It was he whose driving run down the right delivered the cross for Yaya Touré that Stuart Nelson acrobatically touched over in the first half.
But Mancini's enduring faith with Jo, ineffectual on the left, look as baffling as ever and the side remains a shadow of itself without Tevez, who Mancini expects to be back to face Birmingham away on Wednesday. The headache for Mancini is the pile-up of fixtures. The replay cannot be slotted in before the fifth round weekend, which means that a home tie with Aston Villa must fit around the Europa League commitments.
Mancini was happy to be in the draw, though, and Ince was simply counting the pennies. "We need the money. Sunderland [in the third round] brought us a few quid, and today we had a full-house, all that stuff, we earned a few quid," he said.
Notts County (4-4-2) Nelson; Darby, Pearce, Edwards, Harley; Martin, Bishop, Ravenhill, Westcarr; Gow (Hawley, 70) Hughes. Substitutes not used: Burch, Lee, Thompson, Gobern, Spicer, Burgess.
Booked Edwards, Bishop.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1) Hart; Richards, Boateng, Lescott, Zabaleta (Kolarov, 70); Vieira, Barry; Milner, Y Touré, Jo (Silva, 63); Dzeko. Substitutes not used: Given, Kompany, K Touré, De Jong, Guidetti.
Man of the match Richards.
Referee C Foy (St Helens)
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