(THREE CHEERS: Kabby Tshimanga leads the applause of Oxford City fans)
By Jon Couch
Kabby Tshimanga can proudly reflect on what could be his career-defining moment in football – but he insists the best is still yet to come.
The 21-year-old became an instant FA Cup hero after scoring a hat-trick to help Oxford City stun League Two Tranmere Rovers in their own back yard last Saturday.
Sadly through for the National League South minnows, it still wasn’t quite enough to topple Micky Mellon’s big guns as James Norwood’s dramatic last-gasp equaliser helped clinch a thrilling 3-3 draw and set up a Tuesday night replay at Marsh Lane.
Tshimanga’s treble at Prenton Park was one of the highlights of first round day with brave City coming within a whisker of pulling off a major FA Cup shock.
However, those close to the young striker will not be surprised to see his steady progression over the past two seasons after making the decision to further his career in senior football rather than go down the academy route.
Joining Milton Keynes Dons at the age of 10, Congolese-born Tshimanga made his first-team debut at the age of 17, coming on as a late substitute for current Stoke City striker Benik Afobe in an FA Cup tie against Port Vale.
But despite scoring 42 goals in 25 games for the Dons’ Under 18 side, Tshimanga only went on to make six first-team appearances for Karl Robinson’s men, spending the majority of his development in Non-League on loan.
Brief spells at Aldershot Town, Chelmsford City, Corby Town, Nuneaton Town and Chesham United yielded a total of five goals before Tshimanga joined Icelandic team Throttur Reykjavik on a short-term deal until June 2016.
A goalless second half of the 2016-17 season at Yeovil Town eventually saw him released by MK Dons and it was only when he joined National League North side Boston United that his career finally took off.
Despite a limited run in the side over the season, the pacey striker still chipped in with 15 goals in all competitions before opting to join Oxford City, where regular football has finally begun to pay off.
His hat-trick last Saturday thrust him into the limelight but Tshimanga says his next big test of character will come in front of the BT Sport cameras on Tuesday night when he looks to finish the job he started against Tranmere.
“Saturday was a big moment for me and I’ve had a manic week with messages of support,” Tshimanga told The NLP. “The FA Cup represents a huge opportunity for players like myself to showcase our ability and I’m delighted to be doing that in this Oxford team where I believe there are a number of players who could play higher.
“It’s been a bit of a long journey for me but I still feel I am developing all the time. As MK Dons don’t have an Under 21 or Under 23 side, I wasn’t getting much game time in the first team so I had to make the decision to learn through experience and establish myself in men’s football.
“Of course the aim is to get back in the Football League one day, and I’m flattered with the messages of support, but at the moment I am just focused on continuing to play regularly with Oxford City and seeing where it takes me.”
Tshimanga admits he was left with mixed emotions at Prenton Park following Norwood’s late equaliser on Saturday, but reckons his City side have what it takes to complete the job and seal an all Non-League home tie against Southport in the second round.
“It was hard to know what to feel, to be honest,” he added. “On a personal note, I was happy as I’d just scored a hat-trick, but from a team’s perspective I was a bit down after the 89th-minute equaliser.
“But we will not be fazed by what happened when Tranmere come back to our place and I have high hopes that we can get through in front of our home supporters.”