Manuel Pellegrini predicts bright future for Kelechi Iheanacho
Published 12/09/2015 | 18:39
Kelechi Iheanacho followed his manager's instructions to the letter by grabbing a dramatic last-minute winner to preserve Manchester City's 100 per cent start to the season.
The 18-year-old Nigerian, thrown on as a substitute moments earlier, announced himself to the Premier League in style with the strike which sank Crystal Palace 1-0.
And City boss Manuel Pellegrini said afterwards: "I told him to go on and score a goal!"
Iheanacho, who only made his City debut against Watford a fortnight ago, reacted quickest to tuck in the rebound after Samir Nasri's shot was blocked by Palace keeper Alex McCarthy.
And Pellegrini is predicting a bright future for the previously unheralded youngster.
"He's just 18 and started working with our squad last season, but he was unlucky and had a big injury in the last three months of the season," he said.
"This year he started pre-season with the squad and will be a very important player for the future. He's one of the reasons I didn't bring another striker in when we sold Edin Dzeko. He deserves that chance."
Until Iheanacho's intervention City were enduring a frustrating afternoon, having lost key striker Sergio Aguero to a first-half knee injury after a cynical trip by Scott Dann.
The Palace skipper escaped with a yellow card for a tackle which set the tone for a feisty first half as moments later Yaya Toure clattered into James McArthur.
That challenged incensed Eagles boss Alan Pardew, who stormed past Pellegrini and was tugged back by the City manager.
Pardew, of course, has previous with the Chilean following an infamous, foul-mouthed touchline spat when he was in charge at Newcastle two seasons ago. But he was less industrial with his language this time before the minor skirmish ended with a handshake between the rival bosses.
Pellegrini said: "Sometimes you must show the red card immediately because you know the intention of the player, just to make him fall down. I don't like protesting every decision, like Alan does from the first minute, but that was an important decision.
"He (Pardew) came into my technical zone, complaining about every decision of the referee. I think the referee had made an important mistake but that doesn't matter, it's just part of the game."
Pardew, no doubt mindful of his history of touchline misdemeanours, said: "I was a bit incensed by the tackle, I went past Manuel's box and he wasn't very pleased. But I went back quickly like a very good boy."
Palace had chances to extend their fine run and draw level at the top with City, but Joe Hart denied Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon while Bakary Sako put a presentable far-post volley wide.
City new boy Kevin De Bruyne, on in place of Aguero, came up with one defence-splitting pass to send Jesus Navas clear but the Spaniard put his finish into the side-netting.
That looked likely to be City's best chance of registering a fifth straight win until Iheanacho's unlikely heroics, which even had Pardew admitting he "had to check the back of his shirt to see who it was".
"Of course, we feel hard done by," added Pardew. "To get so far in a real battle of two good sides and concede in the last minute really hurts.
"Our goalie is kicking himself a bit but it was a good hit from Nasri and the young boy was quick to it.
"But maybe they did enough to snatch a last-minute winner."
Aguero took to Twitter after the match to allay fears over his fitness and thank fans who contacted him on social media after he went off.
"Thanks everyone for your concern. I got a hard hit and it prevented me from playing more. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury though," he said.
The 27-year-old also congratulated his team-mates for securing the victory in his absence and reserved special praise for Iheanacho, adding: " Great win and a brilliant job by the team on a difficult turf. Congrats @67Kelechi for the goal!"