Iheanacho nets hat-trick as City cruise into fifth round
FA Cup 4th Round
Saturday 30 January 2016, 15.00 KO
City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Sagna, Otamendi (Humphreys 87), Clichy (Angelino 81), Fernando, Fernandinho (Celina 76), Delph, Navas, Sterling, Iheanacho
Unused: Hart, Barker, Silva, Aguero
Goals: Iheanacho (4, 24 [pen], 74), Sterling (76)
Booked: Sterling, Zabaleta
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Iheanacho
City ran out as comfortable winners at Villa Park, as Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first professional hat-trick in a comprehensive 4-0 victory. It was only the Nigerian youngster's fifth start of the season, and Iheanacho showed remarkable maturity and confidence in a performance that belied his 19 years. It was a good day for City's academy, as fellow graduates Cameron Humphreys and Angelino also made their first team debuts, whilst Bersant Celina made his second appearance in the competition.
With a potentially decisive run of fixtures looming in February, Manuel Pellegrini took the opportunity to rotate his squad, leaving out the likes of Yaya Toure and Martin Demichelis entirely, whilst David Silva and Sergio Aguero were unused substitutes. It mattered little, as a beleaguered Aston Villa side were unable to cope with City's movement and work rate.
The Blues opened the scoring after just four minutes when Fabian Delph, booed throughout, found Fernando with an inswinging corner. The midfielder's header was cleared off the line, but Iheanacho showed great predatory skills to react quickest to convert the rebound. Shortly afterwards Iheanacho found Navas in acres of space with a perfectly weighted pass, but the winger fired tamely at Brad Guzan, with a frustrated Delph unmarked in the area.
Navas made amends in the 24th minute, when his cross picked out Raheem Sterling who was bundled over by Leandro Bacuna in the box. As the last man, there was an argument that Bacuna should have been sent off but referee Jones took no further action. Sterling understandably wanted to take the penalty himself, but Pablo Zabaleta intervened to ensure that the manager's pre-match instructions were followed, and Iheanacho nonchalantly rolled the ball past Guzan to double City's advantage.
Pellegrini's side started the second half with similar intent, and Sterling missed two opportunities to extend the lead, whilst Caballero comfortably saved Jesus Gil's free kick. Fifteen minutes from the end Iheanacho latched onto a woefully short back pass from Idrissa Gueye, and showed great composure to beat Guzan from the edge of the box and complete his hat-trick. The 19 year old then turned provider, as his attempted overhead kick inadvertently presented Sterling with a tap in.
It was a satisfactory day for Pellegrini, who revealed after the game that it was Iheanacho's great potential that enabled him to allow Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic to leave (and not be replaced) last summer. His mood may have been soured by Sunday's draw, that sees City face a difficult trip to Stamford Bridge in the fifth round, but for the time being his side continue to fight on all four fronts. A pivotal month awaits.