English Premiership

Pellegrini hails Iheanacho

2015-09-13 11:19
Manuel Pellegrini (AFP)

London - Manuel Pellegrini expects Kelechi Iheanacho to play a significant role in Manchester City's title challenge after the Nigerian teenager's first goal for the club secured a dramatic 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace.

Iheanacho, who has the appropriate middle name of Promise, burst onto the Premier League stage on Saturday when he scored the 90th minute winner at Selhurst Park moments after appearing as a late substitute in only his second appearance for City.

City manager Pellegrini has high hopes for the Nigeria under-20 international and admits the player's development persuaded him he did not need to bring in a replacement after Edin Dzeko left for Roma.

"He's a very important player for us. 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," Pellegrini 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. I told him to go and score a goal.

"I was going to make the substitution before, because Wilfried Bony had only worked the last few days with the team, but he told me he was okay.

"That's why I kept him on, but Kelechi deserved more minutes. It was important he took that chance."

Pellegrini's forward options were stretched following a 17th minute injury to Sergio Aguero that could rule the Argentina striker out of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Juventus.

Aguero, who tweeted after the match that it wasn't a serious injury, was kicked on the knee by Palace's Scott Dann and the City manager believes the centre-back was lucky to escape a red card.

"It was an important kick on his knee. We'll see if he can recover between now and Tuesday," 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 (Pardew, Palace manager) does from the first minute, but that was an important decision."

Pardew's reaction to Yaya Toure's challenge on James McArthur also sparked an angry exchange between the two managers.

"I was a bit incensed by the tackle and went past Manuel's box, and he wasn't particularly pleased about that," Pardew said.

"But I didn't say anything, retreated back to my box and was a good boy."

Victory maintained City's perfect start to the season, with Pellegrini's side winning all five of their league games without conceding a goal.

With Chelsea having lost at Everton earlier in the day, the leaders already have an 11-point advantage over the reigning champions and lie five points clear of second-placed Manchester United.

"It's important to have a good start, to have 15 points from five games. We're not just playing against Chelsea, though they are the champions," Pellegrini said.

"It's an important gap. We were eight points behind last year and, in January, were level.

"If you lose points at the beginning, you can lose them at other parts of the year. We have to continue playing the way we are."

Defeat came as a blow to Palace who started the day in second place following their recent shock victory at Chelsea.

"Everybody in the league will look at City's result and say that was a great result for them, the way we've been playing," Pardew said.

"They've put themselves in a great position. The others have it all to do now. Chelsea have a lot to make up, and that makes it very difficult.

"But this will be a very unpredictable year, with the middle teams capable of beating the top teams."

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