The 2019/20 season provided a clearly defined four; the first generation of young City talent hot off the Farke production line. Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell, Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis- the boyband. Fast forward two years and while there was disappointment evident at Deepdale, in the background, a second generation was forming.
On the pitch were Andrew Omobamidele and Bali Mumba, and on the bench Josh Martin.
There are certain parallels that can be drawn between this new generation and the last; Omobamidele is a physically imposing centre-back who is comfortable on the ball (Godfrey), Mumba was pinched from a lower league club at a young age (also Godfrey), and Martin, as current teammate Cantwell was, is a talented attacker who needs to bulk up more than anything.
For most, Preston away will be remembered as a frustrating point that should’ve been three, but for an 18-year-old Omobamidele it’ll be remembered as a truly significant occasion; a first senior start and a performance even better than he could have dreamed.
The Irishman showed composure beyond his years, not panicked by North End attackers that looked to take advantage of him or force him into a mistake. Not once was he tempted into a rushed punt up field, a get-out his partner Grant Hanley became prone to.
In defence he was solid, making block after block and marshalling the box very well. Despite finding an equaliser the Lilywhites created not a single chance on Omobamidele’s watch. The number 44 also struck the perfect balance in his post-match interview with official club channels, outlining his pride at being involved while remaining focused on the task at hand.
“I found out I was starting this afternoon and it was a great feeling because that’s why you come to the club, to progress through the ranks for moments like these,” he said. “I was over the moon but knew the job that needed to be done and had prepared all week in case I would start.”
And then there was Mumba. A refined and ready-made replacement for Aarons he is, as yet, not, but his technical ability is unquestionable, and his athleticism perfect for a Daniel Farke wing-back. The timing of his runs into the box is also a significant strength, arriving on loose balls for a golden opportunity and a decent penalty shout in an impressive first half.
Strong showings at Luton in the Carabao Cup and against Swansea at home prove Mumba’s consistency, and at 19 improvement is assured under Farke. Is he good enough to replace Aarons, already one of the club’s best full-backs of all time? That question remains unanswered, but with talk around Aarons’ exit growing as the transfer window draws closer, we may find out sooner rather than later.
Martin will be frustrated at his lack of involvement in recent weeks, but the competition he fought through to make a significant impact early in the season is much greater than that of his fellow young players. The ex-Arsenal man does battle with the likes of Cantwell, Emi Buendia, Kieran Dowell and Marco Stiepermann every week for a spot either on the bench or in the eleven, and managed to fight into the side at a crucial moment earlier in the season.
His equaliser in the Carrow Road win over Sheffield Wednesday was a vital turning point in the season, rescuing a winning run when it was at its most vulnerable, catalysing a consistent run from the Canaries for the first time in what was at that point a rollercoaster of a season.
The 19-year-old, much like Cantwell in 2018/19, may not quite be ready, but if he eventually does kick on, 2020/21 will be seen as the starting point.
Although a lot of Friday’s dropped points had that familiar ‘away point, let’s move on’ feel to it, it may well be that the most positive aspects of that game have significant long-term effects, with Andrew Omobamidele at the forefront.