While Cardiff City’s senior strikers continue to misfire, within their youth ranks they have a forward in white-hot form.
For ardent followers of the Bluebirds’ under-23s side, Chanka Zimba is someone who has impressed not only this season, but for the last 12 months or so.
What is important to note now is that these kids have a real opportunity to graduate into the first team, which has been evident this year more than ever.
Academy products Joel Bagan, Tom Sang, Sam Bowen, Kieron Evans, Tavio d’Almeida, Oli Denham, Mark Harris and Rubin Colwill have all played this season, while Isaak Davies was meant to make his first-team debut in the final game of last season against Rotherham, but a cruel injury on the eve of the match prevented that from happening.
Ironically, it was Davies who was stunting Zimba’s progression last season.
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Zimba started the 2020/21 campaign as Steve Morison’s first-choice striker, before he lost his spot to Davies around the turn of the year. It was at that time Mick McCarthy noticed Davies and he seemingly usurped Zimba in the pecking order, for both the first team and under-23s.
This season, though, Zimba looks to have come on leaps and bounds.
Davies’ pre-season injury has taken its toll and the young Welshman is just taking his time in getting back up to full speed, but he is certainly still in the mix when it comes to McCarthy’s thinking.
But while Davies edges himself closer to full form and fitness, Zimba has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
Morison’s young Bluebirds have won their opening four games of the Professional Development League 2 season and Zimba, who joined Cardiff after being released by Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2020, has been central to that.
The 19-year-old has netted four times in the last three games and is now surely banging loudly on the for for a first-team call-up. His latest goal, in the 2-0 win over Sheffield United earlier this week, was an absolute peach, smashed into the bottom corner on the half volley from 20 yards.
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Importantly, he offers something different to McCarthy’s current second option, James Collins.
Zimba has shown that he has pace to burn, knows where the goal is and, as was the case late on against the Blades, can hold-up play and link with others brilliantly.
Kieron Evans was always considered to be the next cab off the rank and with him now having two first-team appearances under his belt and really integrated in that senior setup, it seems as though Zimba is likely the next candidate to make the step up.
Even as far back as when the club decided to allow Marley Watkins to leave, Zimba, and Davies, was on McCarthy’s mind when shaping his squad in the final dealings of the transfer window.
“I’ve decided Marley Watkins won’t be staying with us and we will be using our youngsters,” McCarthy said last month.
“Mark Harris, Rubin Colwill, Chanka Zimba if he gets there, Isaak Davies when he gets back and the lads we have got here. And I’m happy with them.”
It seems almost a matter of time now, especially given his own impressive numbers and the lack of form of both Kieffer Moore and James Collins at the minute, until Zimba gets his chance and you wouldn’t bet against him to make an instant impression given how he has started the season.
And under-23s boss Morison hammered home that point after the win over the Blades on Tuesday.
“I think what has helped is that the gaffer has been so good with us. And TC (assistant Terry Connor) as well. They involve us all the time and involved the players, so they feel like they’re wanted,” Morison said.
“They know if they do well out there, when the opportunities open up with the First Team, the Gaffer will put them in.
“Last week, Kieron Evans plays for me on the Friday, scores two goals. I have to wake him up on the Saturday morning to get him in to travel, and he makes his debut on the Sunday, and then makes another appearance against Coventry.
“The proof is in the pudding. We’re doing our work and the manager sees it and is a part of it. It all goes hand in hand. So, it is excellent.”
The coaches must be applauded for their hard work, yes, but it is Zimba who cannot stop putting the ball in the back of the net at the minute.
And it is throwing up a healthy conundrum for McCarthy as he bids to get his side’s season back on track this weekend against Blackburn Rovers.