Whichever way you spin it, the purpose of the exercise is, by hook or by crook, to get your name in the hat for the next round of the cup.
By that barometer, City did all that was asked of them last night and that there were a few “ups and downs” along the way – as Daniel Farke described them – was hardly surprising given there were 10 changes from the side that lost to West Brom at the weekend.
But it was job done, even if it did take two very late strikes and the introduction of some big guns to seal the deal.
Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell – given joint responsibility for the functioning of City’s left flank – will have learnt more in 90 and 78 minutes respectively than they will in a dozen under-23 games, and so it was only right they earned a nod from the gaffer who, after a first-half of copious instructions, acknowledged tangible improvements from the pair as the game went on.
It’s impossible, of course, to ignore the stop-start nature of the performance and how for long periods there were echoes of West Brom, with a seemingly composed, controlled performance being turned on its head by the concession of an equaliser.
But Stevenage, for all their spirit and endeavour, are not crammed full of ex-Premier League players and on this occasion City, helped by the addition of some quality from the bench, were able to go through the gears in the nick of time.
While Christoph Zimmermann’s goal was the flukiest of flukes, City had been asking questions, and Dennis Sbreny will have gone to sleep last night wondering quite how he didn’t manage to open his account for the season as City pushed hard in the final 20.
An impressive cameo at St Andrew’s from Sbreny whetted the appetite for, potentially, his coming of age in the Championship, and it’s important he offers some genuine competition to Jordan Rhodes, so it’s therefore disappointing that he was unable to properly kick-start his season last night.
There’s still plenty of time.
Equally it’s clear that a lot of huffing and puffing that amounted to very little was transformed by the late arrivals of Teemu Pukki and Onel Hernandez; also that the half-time arrival of Kenny McLean – on for an injured Tommy Trybull – had an impact on City’s forward thrust.
With Stevenage legs tiring, the introduction of Hernandez was an ideal option. With his endless energy and searing pace, it was almost inevitable he would have a positive impact on the game.
It’s hard to overstate how valuable a fit and firing Onel could be to City’s season.
Pukki – one of the least heralded of the summer signings – has gone about his business in an understated and unselfish way but has had the biggest impact of the new arrivals. With his clever movement and ability to find space just in behind the main striker, he has quickly become integral to Farke plans.
Much is spoken of the need for new faces to ‘hit the ground running. Pukki has done just that.
Celtic fans were quick to pour scorn on our new Finnish signing when he arrived, which perhaps partly explains why expectations were modest, but here is a player who’s already attuned to the hustle and bustle of the Championship. Robin (Sainty) likened his style to that of one Kevin Reeves (ask your mum or dad), and compliments don’t come much bigger.
So, we’ll take a 3-1 and move on – even if it was a bit scrappy. Others of a similar ilk saw their Carabao Cup dreams ended at the first hurdle.