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City slickers eke out last gasp win

WINNER: Match winner Kelechi Iheanacho

They have been criticised for spending vast amounts of money on transfers, they have also criticised for not abiding by the Financial Fairplay rules, but no one could criticise Kelechi Iheanacho for celebrating uncharitably when he scored a last minute winner to extend Manchester City’s perfect start to the season.

The highly-rated Nigerian youngster perhaps would not have been on the bench had David Silva and Raheem Sterling been fit enough to play, but his winning goal, and his ahis first for City, sees Manuel Pellegrini’s men encompass their winning streak to five games.

It is a case of catch me if you can for City, because they look like a team determined to reclaim their Premier League crown. But their hard-fought win will be overshadowed by Sergio Aguero’s injury-enforced departure.

Palace entered the game buoyed by their shock win over Chelsea and Alan Pardew’s men were aiming to topple another English superpower. Despite the fact the home side opted against fielding a recognised striker, they created the first noticeable effort on goal.

Pape Souare went on a surging run down the left flank and played a neat pass to Wilfried Zaha. The latter cut inside on his preferred right foot only to be fouled by Bacary Sagna. Jason Puncheon took the resultant set-piece and floated in a cross, which was cleared by City’s defence.

Souare tracked the ball’s trajectory and controlled neatly on his chest, but his tantalising left-footed strike - 25 yards from goal - went agonisingly wide.

With Sterling left out of the matchday squad due to injury, this gave ostensibly the third-choice winger Sami Nasri a great chance to strengthen his quest for a regular starting berth in the side.

The Frenchman played a forward pass to Aguero who turned pass Scott Dann, but the Palace defender left his mark on City’s marksman following his tackle, which left Aguero in a heap of bother. The striker immediately signalled to the bench that something was wrong as he landed awkwardly on his knee.

And to compound matters for City Aguero’s futile efforts to shake off his injury meant they had little choice but to unwillingly take off their main striker. Despite his departure there was universal enthusiasm from the visiting enclosure when Kevin De Bruyne was summoned from the bench in place of the Argentine.

With the visitors struggling to assume any real control of the game tensions started to build, and this was encapsulated by Yaya Toure’s reckless challenge on James McArthur. The Palace players were incandescent with rage following Toure’s tackle not least Pardew, who was apoplectic on the touchline, which culminated in both managers exchanging distasteful words.

But shy of half-time Bakary Sako passed up a brilliant chance to give the home side the lead when Zaha whipped in a beautiful cross towards the unmarked winger at the back-post - only for Sako to marginally volley his attempt over the bar.

City have made a splendid start to the season, amassing 10 goals and conceding none in the process. But Palace were providing a stern test for Pellegrini’s men.

The last time City won five in a row was in 1912 when the Titanic was top of the discussion and the visitors nearly dented a hole in Palace’s hopes of getting something from this game.

Following a sweeping counter-attack De Bruyne laid it on a proverbial plate for Jesus Navas who rounded McCarthy but he unfathomably failed to finish off the move when his strike failed to navigate it’s way into the unguarded goal. Composure is what the Spaniard lacked and you can’t help feel that if Aguero had been on the field the score would have been different.

Another surging run from Souare down the left channel saw the home side conjure up a meaningful effort of their own. The Palace left-back hoisted in a routine cross which saw Puncheon leap above Eliaquim Mangala, which forced Joe Hart to make a sharp save to keep the scores level.

Prior to the match Pardew insisted Dwight Gayle now has a chance to “make a statement” at the club, but the second-half substitute spurned a glorious opportunity to reaffirm his manager's words when he failed to connect with Zaha’s delightful cross inside the six-yard box. It looked easier to score than miss.

The difference between teams like Palace and formidable opponents like City is that the former will be faced to introspect their slim pickings, whereas City showcase their predatory instinct in front of goal.

And this was telling in the way they clinched their winner. Second-half substitute Iheanacho pounched on McCarthy’s rebound save and comfortably slotted in the loose ball past the despairing reach of the Palace keeper to deny the hosts a hard-fought point.

“We are top of the league” was the chant from the City end once the final whistle blew and that is where they will stay for a long while.

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