For many, there was one shining light which emerged from Cardiff City’s Carabao Cup defeat by Brighton.
Sam Bowen shone in the middle of the park, it looked like he had been playing first-team football for the club for years.
He had an air of calm and composure in possession which belies his 20 years and, despite having been on the radar for quite some time, there is a growing sense that Tuesday night was the moment when people really sat up and took notice.
The encouraging thing about the Wales youth international’s display was just how forward-thinking he was as the fulcrum of that midfield three.
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Alongside seasoned professionals in Will Vaulks and Ryan Wintle, both of whom had points of their own to prove, it was Bowen who stood out as the player who really grabbed his opportunity.
With Bowen, Cardiff now have six central midfield players to call upon; Vaulks, Wintle, Bowen, Marlon Pack, Joe Ralls and Leandro Bacuna. The consensus seems to be, though, that they are all very similar in how they play, defensive-minded and more lateral than some would like.
But Bowen displayed a textbook box-to-box midfielder’s performance against the Premier League outfit on Tuesday night and showcased a drive and go-forward which is often missing from Cardiff’s midfield.
Bowen did more than anyone on the pitch to press his case to the manager for more first-team involvement and it is safe to say it did not go unnoticed.
“I congratulated the young players, the debutants, I thought they were excellent,” McCarthy said after the Brighton defeat.
“Oli Denham coming on as a sub, excellent, Tav (Tavio d’Almeida) was excellent.
“I thought Bows was the pick of them, really pleased with him. Different class. I thought he was excellent.
“I’m delighted for them.”
D’Almeida operated in a wing-back role, a shift from his usual central midfield role.
He looked comfortable in possession, that’s for sure, but struggled at times with the positional aspect of that demanding wing-back position.
But, as far as McCarthy is concerned, he sees the Frenchman’s future out on the flank rather than in midfield.
“He has been a midfield player but he played right back in the under-23s there up at West Brom, I went up to watch and I thought he was excellent,” McCarthy added.
“It really suits him.”
While D’Almeida and Denham both enjoyed solid starts to their senior Bluebirds careers, it is Bowen who will have perhaps woken up on Wednesday morning with a more purposeful spring in his step.
McCarthy has talked up the midfielder during pre-season and finally handed him his shot at the first team and he took it.
The encouraging thing for these kids, of course, is that they have seen first hand that good performances translate into first-team minutes.
There will be more debuts to come this term, that’s for sure, but Tuesday evening felt like a real coming-of-age performance for Bowen and McCarthy left the door fully ajar for him to force his way into the first-team reckoning for the Championship campaign.
When asked if he had any reservations over playing Bowen, or any of the other debutants for that matter, in the league this term, McCarthy replied: “Not at all, I’ve done that already with Tom Sang, Ciaron Brown, Rubin.
“They’ve got to be the future of the club, I’d have no problem playing those guys.”
Music to the ears of fans and young players alike, no doubt.