The cameo and anecdote that highlight an exciting, enigmatic Sunderland talent for Jack Ross to mould
Benji Kimpioka made an impression on his league debut against Peterborough United, after which Ross described him as a ‘bit of an enigma at times’.
Coming off the bench with his team a man down, Kimpioka came within inches of turning an Aiden McGeady shot towards goal. Then in the closing moments he made an exhilarating burst for goal.
It came to nothing, but showcased his raw pace and talent.
There was even some crowd interaction from the Swede, a sure sign that he relishes being on the pitch and in the thick of the action.
Before the game, though, a throwaway comment left Ross and his staff a touch baffled and more than a touch amused.
Ross tells the tale to show that the 18-year-old is a unique character, but one who has a very good chance of making an impression in the game.
The Black Cats boss also admits that he is starting to understand the Swede’s game better and better, something which both should benefit from.
Before heading off for international duty, Kimpioka is set to have a big chance to make an impression in the Checkatrade Trophy clash against Carlisle.
“The one thing I always say is that it can be so hard to have regular contact time with the younger players.
“Where we train and everything, it’s not perfect in that sense.
“But I watch the games and get to any that I can get to.
“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!
“When he arrived at the ground before the Peterborough game, Pottsy [John Potter] said, ‘hi, how are you?’ And his response was ‘good morning’.
“I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as English isn’t his first language!
“But that’s just him. He’s pretty laidback but he’s got something, and you saw it against Peterborough,” Ross added.
“Even his interaction with the crowd, it’s interesting to see that. I like him, he’s got really good attributes.
“He’s still very young but to get some first team involvement is good for him.
“We’ll hopefully get some more first team gametime into him in the Checkatrade.”
Kimpioka is one of a raft of younger players who will be involved for the visit of John Sheridan’s side.
A number of first team players, such as Alim Ozturk and Luke O’Nien, will play, but Ross is missing the vast majority of his squad.
With Josh Maja and Jerome Sinclair injured, Kimpioka looks set to lead the line and young midfielder Ethan Robson is also likely to play.
Young forward Jack Diamond was included in the squad for the visit of Peterborough alongside Kimpioka and so is likely to have some involvement again.
Ross said: “We have 14 players unavailable tonight.
“We are so stretched because players are away on international duty, suspended or injured.
“There is a real mix why players are unavailable. We have 10/11 first-team players available.
“The team that will play is pretty much the one that can play!
“A lot of the players are unavailable. There are players who have had injuries or have not played a lot that would have played, your Bali Mumba’s, but he is away with England.
“In terms of first players, we have 10 or 11 available, the rest will be U23 players. A lot of the stronger 23 players are out on loan.
“The positive to us being stretched tonight is that we don’t have a game on Saturday.”
The visit of Blackpool in League One this Saturday was postponed due to international call-ups.
On the three new injury concerns, Ross added: “Jerome has a slight hamstring problem from Saturday, Josh has had an ongoing ankle problem and to his credit has still been playing.
“Lee, it is just a maintenance one, he put a lot of effort into Saturday as well. It is 14 in total, quite a lot!”
Ross insists that he will continue to take the competition seriously.
“It is a strange competition in some ways but it is important we talk it up because of the prizes at the end of it,” he said.
“There are arguments to be had about the format of it and the challenges that brings. My only argument is that the tournament doesn’t count towards suspensions, we have been over that ground before with Max. That is a fault in the competition.
“Other than that I have no issue with it.
“It adds to a punishing schedule but it is the same for every League One and League Two club involved in it.
“Anybody that came to the Stoke game knows we approached it properly. It will be the same for us tomorrow night.
“We don’t have a game Saturday. The prize at the end is a good one, it is silverware as well. Our approach remains consistent.”