Some years ago, an ardent watcher of Cardiff City's youth teams picked out a diminutive forward player and uttered the words: "He's the closest thing I've seen at youth level at this club to Aaron Ramsey!"

That City supporter was talking about Cian Ashford. At the time he was around 15 years of age and it's some billing to give such a young player. But his goalscoring record at youth level was, quite frankly, a joke, and supporters were rightly excited about him.

In November 2020, then manager Neil Harris called Ashford up to first-team training. Having celebrated his 16th birthday just weeks before, Cardiff had to ask the youngster's school if they could take him out of lessons for the session.

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Naturally, Ashford made an instant impression, scoring with his third touch in a small-sided, four-v-four game.

On a team which included experienced stalwarts Sean Morrison, Joe Ralls and Junior Hoilett, Ashford did not look out of place, those who were there subsequently said. He came up against veterans Will Vaulks, Curtis Nelson, Sheyi Ojo and Marlon Pack, but took it all in his stride – he scored three goals all together in that match.

Cardiff weren't the only team aware of his talents, though. Leeds United pursued the forward strongly for a while but the Bluebirds knew the gem they had in their hands. They fought hard to keep him and succeeded. They were not so lucky when Leeds came in for Charlie Crew a couple of years later, of course.

Ashford's trajectory was tracking in the right direction and last season, sources suggested it was the year he was going to break through. But a cruel injury at the wrong time wiped his season out. Cue the frustration and agony. It wasn't meant to go that way, but so much of football is about how you recover in the face of adversity and this year he's done just that.

Some might say the 19-year-old should have had his league debut sooner and it's tough to argue the contrary. The last two seasons were spent battling relegation, which hardly made it conducive, but he has had to be patient this term. The Wales youth international continued to impress — like the time he was called up to the Welsh U21s side and he volleyed in a stunning late equaliser against Czechia back in October — and earned spots on Cardiff's bench for league games.

But after nine games as an unused substitute, fans were desperate to see him come on and make an impact. Erol Bulut finally obliged and brought him on for the final 20 minutes against Birmingham City for his league bow.

That diminutive forward is no more, though. He has filled out into his frame and no longer looked like the promising kid, but a proper footballer. That first touch out of the way, the first pass to his team-mate, you could see the nerves fall off him with each moment. He found space on the right, linked up with Rubin Colwill and Manolis Siopis — who is a big fan of the teenager, which you can read about here — and stuck to his defensive work diligently.

Erol Bulut said after the match: "Before the game, I said to him that maybe he could come on for 15 or 20 minutes, so I said to him, 'Are you nervous?' He said, 'No, no, I'm OK!'

"After the game I asked him and he said, 'In the game, I was really nervous!' There is a difference between under-21s games and high-level Championship games! He has to learn many things, but for a start, tonight, he was good.

"He had really good games at under-21s and for the national team he had good games. He is training well with us, but small-sided games are different and on the big field everything is different. But he will learn, he is still 19 years old. He will have good moments again."

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After the match, which Cardiff won 1-0, Cardiff's players and staff pushed the debutant towards the travelling fans, who duly obliged with cheers as he produced three fist pumps to them in the corner.

Bulut's assistant, Nadir Sonmez, wrote of Ashford on social media after the game: "This is the best feeling in football when you see a young player taking part in an important game."

Academy manager Gavin Chesterfield said: "First-team league debut, such a special moment for Cian, his family, our supporters and all involved with Cardiff City's academy. Hopefully many more to come. Well done to all involved with his development."

Importantly, of course, Wednesday night should represent the start for Ashford and not be an outlier. The hope is the player's minutes will increase in the final four matches of the season and it will set him up for a big pre-season, during which he will hope to force his way into the reckoning.

Speaking of his team-mate, Jamilu Collins said: "He is a wonderful lad. I congratulated him immediately after the game, because he deserved that. You can see, well, I think he will be the future for Cardiff.

"He is a confident guy and I think this will give him confidence moving forward."