Saturday, January 16, 2016 9:31 pm
When Manchester City hosted Crystal Palace in the Capital One Cup at the Etihad in October, an interview with Kelechi Iheanacho appeared in the match programme under the headline ‘Remember My Name’. It was a little unfortunate, therefore, that Iheanacho was subsequently spelt wrong on the team sheet.
Gradually, however, the Nigerian teenager is making a name for himself at the Etihad. He scored that night in a comprehensive 5-1 win for City, having also claimed his first Premier League goal against Palace a month earlier – just 54 seconds after coming on as a late substitute for Wilfried Bony – to give Manuel Pellegrini’s side a dramatic 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park.
It was no surprise to see Pellegrini hand Iheanacho only his second league start for City when the Londoners returned to the Etihad, at the end of a week in which he had emphasised the striker’s importance to the squad.
‘He’s the answer for a lot of questions that you’ve asked before about whether we need to bring in another striker – the other striker is Kelechi,’ said Pellegrini, after the 19-year-old had taken his record to five goals in 15 appearances by scoring in last weekend’s FA Cup win at Norwich.
‘Kelechi has been involved from the first game of this season. He’s in the squad because he’s important in that position. We also have Bony, we have (Raheem) Sterling, we have Kun (Aguero). It’s important for him that when he has the opportunity to play, to do it in the way he did in the last game against Norwich.’
On this occasion, Iheanacho was deployed in the middle of a three-pronged attack behind Aguero, with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to either side. Such is the fluidity of City’s offence, though, that the young man signed from the Taye Academy in Nigeria was just as much as a threat to Palace down the flanks.
Having almost set up a goal when he ran onto De Bruyne’s throughball down the right wing, Iheanacho popped up on the left side soon afterwards later to have a hand in City’s second goal four minutes before half-time.
He was furthest forward when Fabian Delph, scorer of the first, broke up a Palace attack and sent his young teammate on his way. With no options to aim at in the box, Iheanacho did the sensible thing by turning back and laying the ball off to Aguero whose 25-yard strike took a somewhat fortuitous deflection off Scott Dann and beat goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.
It demonstrated another side to Iheanacho’s game that sometimes goes unappreciated. When he rose to prominence in the Under 17 World Cup three years ago, he scored six goals but also weighed in with seven assists for Nigeria. On tour in Australia last summer, he scored City’s second goal in a 2-2 draw with Roma but not before setting up the first for Sterling on his debut.
The only opportunity to add to his total for City against Palace on this occasion arrived in the 34th minute after Aguero had led another City breakaway by controlling the ball with a sublime piece of skill.
The Argentine fed the ball wide to Delph who in turn clipped the ball to Iheanacho in the middle of the box. He took it on his chest well enough but completely missed his volley as he swivelled to shoot.
Iheanacho also threatened briefly with a jinking run into the box that was ended when he went down under a challenge from Pape Souare although, on current form, City aren’t holding their breath for a penalty.
Pellegrini’s decision to take him off less than 12 minutes into the second half and send on Yaya Toure was certainly no reflection on the striker’s performance, although Iheanacho would no doubt like to have stayed on as City began to run riot against an increasingly ragged Palace, practically passing their way into the net for two more goals.
He would have fancied his chances of making it a hat-trick against Alan Pardew’s side this season. As it was, Pardew and his players would not have minded seeing the back of him.
*From the Mail Online