From the confusion within the Crysta Palace’s six-yard box emerged Kelechi Iheanacho, a teenager introduced as a substitute seconds earlier, to clip home his first senior goal and establish Manchester City’s best start to a top-flight campaign in more than a century.
At the final whistle Iheanacho flung 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 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. “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.”
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, particularly given Sergio Agüero had long since departed with a knee injury.
“I had to look at his shirt to check who he was,” said 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.
It came at a cost. Agüero had not seen out the opening quarter, felled by Scott Dann near the halfway line as City sprang on the counter and Palace bemoaned the non-award of a penalty for Fernandinho’s trip on Yohan Cabaye. There was contact to the Argentinian’s right knee and he landed awkwardly on the same limb. It took him five minutes before he opted to hobble off to sit, scowling, in the dugout with his involvement against Juventus in doubt.