By Ian Ransom
Record signing Raheem Sterling made an instant impression on his Manchester City debut, scoring in the third minute of the Premier League club’s penalty shootout win over AS Roma in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.
The 20-year-old was jeered at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when he tripped over the ball on one of his first touches in the area, but a minute later soaked up the acclaim after slotting home a through ball from Nigerian teenager Kelechi Iheanacho.
Though all eyes were on Sterling, the most expensive English player in history after joining from Liverpool for a reported 49 million pounds ($76 million) , it was goalkeeper Joe Hart who secured victory with two saves in the shootout as City prevailed 5-4 on spot-kicks after the teams drew 2-2.
Aleksandar Kolarov missed City’s second spot kick but Hart parried away a weak effort from Seydou Doumbia and also denied Seydou Keita to clinch the International Champions Cup victory in front of 41,134.
Sterling’s transfer generated plenty of debate, but his man-of-the-match performance was a positive start in justifying his price-tag and was well received by manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“He worked with our team just a few days so I’m happy in the way he played,” Pellegrini told reporters.
“He demonstrated why he is here. He demonstrated not only his value as a player, he’s also a very young player so he will improve a lot in future playing with Yaya (Toure), playing with David Silva … so I’m very happy with him and very happy for our team to buy him.”
Sterling was desperately unlucky not to create a second goal before being substituted at halftime, garnering no sympathy from Australian referee Jarred Gillett despite a forceful challenge from Alessandro Florenzi that took out the Englishman’s legs.
His threatening partnership with Silva, the pair carving up the Roma defence on occasions, also augured well.
“Always, good players will link immediately when they know how to play,” Pellegrini said.
“Immediately David (found) a very good striker where he’s making good movements.”
Roma coach Rudi Garcia was buoyed in defeat by his side’s fight and two quality goals that saw them equalise twice.
Adem Ljajic curled in a sumptuous free kick three minutes from full-time after being brought down just outside the box, while Miralem Pjanic scored their first in the eighth minute with a thundering 25-metre strike.
Iheanacho hammered home City’s second in the 51st minute, latching onto a botched defensive pass intended for keeper Morgan de Sanctis.