How important can any goal be in September? Titles are decided in the spring, of course, but Manchester City’s last-minute winner at Selhurst Park still had a weighty feel to it.
It was scored not by any of their two-time title winners, nor by their new big-money superstars, but by Kelechi Iheanacho, their 18-year-old Nigerian striker on just his second Premier League appearance. Both of those saw him come off the bench in the penultimate minute – Alan Pardew had to read the back of his shirt to know who he was – but he has already made what could be a crucial difference in City’s season.
In the final seconds of normal time, City were gently probing around the edge of the Palace area when a sharp exchange of passes made room for Samir Nasri to shoot. Alex McCarthy could only parry it out and it was Iheanacho, having replaced Wilfried Bony less than one minute earlier, who reacted first, gleefully finishing from close range.
That goal means their league record reads five games, five wins, 11 goals scored and none conceded. Arsenal trail by five points, Chelsea by 11. Last season City saw Chelsea surge into the distance in early autumn. This year the situation is reversed.
The real value of these three points is revealed by the fact that had Iheanacho (below) not scored, City would have been fairly content with a draw. City lost here last year, against a Palace side not as good as they are now. Pardew’s team, bright with lightning pace, set about City for the first 15 minutes, although their best chance, from substitute Dwight Gayle, came one minute before Iheanacho’s decisive goal.
Palace gave everything they had, though, in a feisty game which was liberally refereed by Mike Jones. Both teams were denied penalties for clear trips in the box, Fernandinho on Yohan Cabaye, Cabaye on Nasri. Jones also gave only yellow cards for two tackles which might have been reds. Scott Dann cynically tripped Sergio Agüero, making no attempt to play the ball, while Yaya Toure wiped out James McArthur, prompting a confrontation between old friends Pardew and Manuel Pellegrini.
“I didn’t say anything, retreated back to my box and I was a good boy,” Pardew said afterwards.
Pellegrini shrugged that incident off but was far from impressed with Dann’s foul on Agüero, given it forced the striker off with a knee injury 25 minutes in, making him a doubt for Tuesday’s Champions League game with Juventus. With neither David Silva nor Raheem Sterling fit to play, this meant City played 65 minutes without their three best attacking players.
That injury did force Pellegrini to introduce Kevin De Bruyne earlier than he wanted to, with the £55m Belgian impressing as a number 10 in the first half and then out on the left. Pellegrini praised his “good passing and good movement,” and the fact he only lost the ball once all game. De Bruyne made a good chance for Bony and a brilliant one for Jesús Navas who, early in the second half, ran through on goal and rounded McCarthy only to drag his shot wide of the empty net.
It felt as if City had missed their chance to win, but nobody was counting on Iheanacho.
Crystal Palace: (4-2-3-1) McCarthy; Kelly, Dann, Hangeland, Souare; Cabaye, McArthur; Zaha, Puncheon (Lee, 82), Sako (Gayle, 66); Bolasie (Jedinak, 75).
Man City: (4-4-2) Hart; Sagna, Kompany, Mangala, Kolarov; Navas, Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri (Demichelis, 90); Bony (Iheanacho, 89), Agüero (De Bruyne, 25).
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content