Saturday, September 12, 2015

Nigerian Teen, Kelechi Iheanacho, Scores Late Winner

This was evidence Manchester City’s match-winners are not all household names whose lofty reputations precede them. This bruising contest had lurched into stoppage time when Samir Nasri eked out rare space in the Crystal Palace penalty area and spat away a shot which Alex McCarthy could not hold. From the confusion within the six-yard box emerged Kelechi Iheanacho, a teenager introduced as a substitute seconds earlier, to clip home his first senior goal and establish this club’s best start to a topflight campaign in over a century.

The final whistle moments later saw Iheanacho fling his No72 shirt into the joyous away support, the lucky beneficiary perhaps glancing at the name emblazoned across the back just to check who had pilfered his team’s winning goal. The 18-year-old Nigerian had only previously featured for a few minutes as a late replacement for Raheem Sterling against Watford in August. Having been signed from Taye Academy in Owerri in 2014, he does not even qualify for the B list for City’s Champions League campaign, which begins against Juventus on Tuesday. “But he’s a very important player for the future for us,” said Manuel Pellegrini. “He’s one of the reasons I didn’t bring in another striker when we sold Edin Dzeko.”

Even so, Palace might have thought the worst had passed when Iheanacho, the star of his country’s victorious involvement in the Fifa U17s World Cup two years ago, had replaced Wilfried Bony in the final minute, particularly given Sergio Agüero had long since departed with a knee injury. “I had to look at his shirt to check who he was,” admitted Alan Pardew. “But then City have so many players. It’s a problem going forward. People forget that not only are they building a very strong first XI, but they’re snapping up a lot of young players from around the globe making it very difficult for everyone else.” Iheanacho was sharpest to react here, his finish dispatched beyond a dismayed McCarthy and City had their victory.

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