Sunderland’s exit to Oldham in the EFL Trophy was potentially welcome news for Lee Johnson, considering the horrendous luck with injuries that his squad is having at the moment.
In all likelihood, he was probably relieved that his team came out of the game relatively unscathed.
The performance itself was totally underwhelming - very few players could justify their inclusion in the starting eleven at the weekend on the back of this game. The display, as much as the team selection itself, was completely disjointed.
That being said, when Aiden O’Brien is playing as a holding midfielder, it shows the limited options that Lee Johnson had at his disposal when picking the side.
That said, it’s still fair to suggest that fans could have expected more from certain senior players that were leading their younger teammates - many of them will be looking over their shoulders as the January transfer window edges closer to opening.
From my perspective, there was one glimmer of light that shone through the drab darkness that this game displayed - Benji Kimpioka.
Kimpioka is something of an enigma - occasionally, he’ll show impressive glimpses of high ability and skill, but during his time milling around the fringes of our first team, he hasn’t shown consistent form - and has struggled to make an impression out on loan.
He’s been around the Sunderland squad for while now, and seems a confident lad.
Phil Parkinson gave him more opportunites than most in his time as manager, and Kimpioka nabbed himself a goal in a home draw with Coventry just before Christmas that season.
Unfortunately, he has just not kicked on from then.
Kimpioka was hampered by hamstring injuries last seasons - he only came back from a bad injury in the summer. Lee Johnson stated himself back then that it was imperative that the Swede got substantial game time.
Described as ‘unique’ and ‘dangerous’ by the Sunderland manager, Kimpioka certainly has something to offer to this Sunderland team at present - especially with the multiple injuries that they are suffering.
In Wednesday’s game, the Sweden U21 international was the clear standout performer.
The raw pace that Kimpioka offers is enthralling and exciting - something that the current Sunderland squad could do with. His unpredictable style can leave defenders bewildered, and unsure of what his next movement will be.
There were times in the second half where he displayed the skill and creativity to use step overs and neat footwork to get himself out of small spaces - and that makes him a threat.
That said, his finishing leaves a lot to be desired.
At one stage in the first half, Kimpioka dribbled past a couple of defenders and only had the keeper to beat, but blasted his shot wide. His general composure is where his game needs the most work - but, you’d assume that’s something that will improve the more that he plays. It’s hard to be too critical of him at this stage.
There is an opportunity now for Benji to kick on and show what he can offer. At 21 years of age, he is certainly not a child anymore.
With injuries mounting and the festive period on its way, a brave, confident Kimpioka might offer Sunderland’s forward line a different kind of threat.
Question is, will he get the chance?