In the build up to last night’s efficient 3-1 victory at home to Carlisle, the inclusion of Benji Kimpioka in the starting line-up was a talking point among fans who were eager to see what the young Swede had to offer.
Those fans didn’t have long to wait as less than two minutes into the game, Aiden McGeady delivered a great cross to which young Benji glanced on a header that beat Carlisle’s keeper and placed Sunderland in the driver’s seat. Some might argue that the Carlisle stopper should have done better, but, regardless, Sunderland’s young forward had opened his account.
Aside from the goal, Kimpioka’s all-round display was incredibly satisfying. He was energetic, strong, impressive both in and out of possession, as well as looking threatening in front of goal. There were moments where he fluffed his lines a little, but by and large he was really impressive against what was a pretty physical Carlisle defence.
Moving forward, though, with Charlie Wyke injured leaving Josh Maja and Jerome Sinclair as the club’s only senior striking options, Benji Kimpioka will certainly have given Jack Ross some food for thought.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kimpioka is the fact that despite not being a natural centre-forward/striker, the youngster looked effective in that role last night.
For anyone familiar with the U23s, they’ll know that Kimpioka is often deployed as a wide forward, but Ross clearly sees the young Swede as a more central threat, which is no surprise considering the forward’s height and build.
Indeed, when asked about Kimpioka by the local press, Ross noted that he’s excited at the prospect of being able to develop young Benji:
When he came into my squad in pre-season he played out wide and when I’ve watched him recently, I think he’s actually better suited to a more central role.
He’s so off the cuff in the way that he plays, but even when I watch him in the U23’s, he has two or three minutes where he does brilliant things and then two or three where you just don’t see him. But he’s young!
Kimpioka’s finishing was somewhat erratic at times last night - and that will be something Ross will be keen to help Benji develop - but the forward’s physicality, bravery, pace, and most importantly his positioning were all fantastic.
Kimpioka looks like a real gem, and could well find more game time in the coming weeks.
So what next for the young forward after his impressive debut?
Well, Benji jets off to join his young Swedish team-mates this week as he represents his national side at youth level where he might well come up against Bali Mumba later this week. However, upon his return he will be eager to gain some valuable training time with the first-team in an effort at finding a place in Jack Ross’ senior squad.
Today will likely be enough to grant Kimpioka with the chance to train with the first-team, and simply put, he has to grab that opportunity with both hands.
Josh Maja and Jerome Sinclair will be difficult to dislodge, and rightly so, for they have been brilliant in recent weeks. However, two forwards simply isn’t enough in terms of depth - this could be Kimpioka’s opportunity to find a place in Ross’ plans, as Sunderland’s third-choice striker.
If Kimpioka needs any extra motivation, he only needs to look so far as fellow young forward, Josh Maja. Many thought Maja would eventually find himself as more of a squad player once Jack Ross assembled his first-choice side, but that obviously isn’t the case as our main striker approaches double figures for the season already.
What’s clear to see from Jack Ross is that if he thinks someone is good enough then they’ll be afforded a chance to shine. Maja, Hume, Gooch, and Mumba can all testify to that statement - now it’s time for Benji to stake his claim for a position in the first team.