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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019
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The inside story of Jason Knight’s full Championship debut for Derby County

A WhatsApp shutdown, family blackout and why Philip Cocu loves his new midfield maestro from Dublin.

Knight has made a big early-season impression at Derby.
Knight has made a big early-season impression at Derby.
Image: Barrington Coombs

JASON KNIGHT FOUND out in Derby County’s team meeting an hour and a half before kick-off that he would be making his full league debut against West Bromwich Albion this afternoon.

The Sky Sports cameras were in place for this Midlands derby, the earlier 12.30pm start meaning the players arrived at Pride Park after a breakfast of pasta and chicken.

As Knight waited for the briefing from manager Philip Cocu, he wandered over to check the teamsheet pinned to the wall. It was then the 18-year-old realised this day would be different.

He was starting.

“I was just excited when I saw my name to just get out there and show what I can do,” Knight, standing on the side of the pitch in flip flops, said afterwards.

“I’m really proud, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I joined. It’s a proud moment for my family”

Not that Knight was the one who broke the news of his full league debut to them. His parents were only back from holiday and, after four brief substitute appearances this season, they were content in the knowledge that they could catch another glimpse of a potential cameo on Sky.

Then Cocu threw a spanner in the works by playing him from the start but, rather than get in contact to let his family back in Dublin know, Knight opted for a blackout.

“I didn’t get back on my phone [to tell them] because I wanted to focus on the game and what I had to do,” he explained. “They watched it on telly so they were happy enough.”

There was still a comforting voice from home, though, and it came in the form of ex-League of Ireland goalkeeper turned West Brom kitman Aidan ‘Jacko’ Smyth, who had some words encouragement before kick-off.

“Ah, I was delighted for him, he did really well. It was almost perfect for him.”

Knight’s older brother Kevin, now with their hometown club Cabinteely in the First Division, would surely understand his sibling’s reticence to call home considering he spent two years with Leicester City while also representing Ireland at underage level.

“He gives me little pointers about what to do and what not to do,” Knight added. “It’s really good help. It just gives you that little edge when you’re feeling down or feeling too up that he’s always there to talk to.”

Knight was then informed by a local radio reporter that he was now live on BBC Radio Derby for their post-match analysis show and, after dealing with that, he returned to chat.

He was impressive in an advanced midfield role, enjoying 50 touches before being substituted in the 89th minute. He looked neat and tidy in possession, but a chance to see his name in lights with a second-half goal passed him by.

The teenager dropped to the penalty spot in the 62nd minute and found the yard of space required to get a shot away from the pullback.

West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone made a fine reaction save and, as the rebound dropped from the air back in Knight’s direction, he swung wildly at the ball and only struck fresh air.

“Yeah, I know, I didn’t know where people were around me,” he sighed.

Save for the couple of thousand away fans, all 26,718 supporters rose together to applaud Knight off the pitch in the 89th minute.

When the final whistle went, West Brom’s Dara O’Shea, another Dubliner, waited by the tunnel to embrace his Ireland U21 team-mate. The pair spent the summer together at the Toulon Tournament under Stephen Kenny’s guidance.

“I didn’t know if he was here or not today so it was a good moment,” Knight said of the 20-year-old, who was an unused substitute.

Once Cocu was done with his postmortem of a game which ended 1-1, saw three penalties awarded and Baggies boss Slaven Bilic sent off for dissent, the former Barcelona star provided a glowing assessment of why Knight is key to his plans.

jason-knight-scores-a-penalty Knight in action for Ireland U17s last year. Source: Simon Stacpoole/INPHO

“What’s not to like about him,” the Dutchman beamed. “If you start with his presence in the game, just an 18-year-old boy. He’s breathing football, a lot of energy, good skills on the ball and, of course, at his age, he has to learn still about his positioning and entering, coming in front of the goal.

“It says a lot that if we put him in the team at his age. He has a lot of potential.”

Knight’s willingness to put in extra work after training, as well as an ability to take on information, has been crucial to his progress.

“When we started [at the club] he was too energetic,” Coco explained. “That is not a good word, maybe. He was running all over the place. Now he is more loyal to his position.

I think he’s developing really well, taking the advice, he is open to it and he just has to continue his work and, of course, for our club it is great to see these young guys can already play in the first team and show themselves in a good way.

“His mentality around the club, like he plays, 100 per cent. Always. If we’re finished he stays on the pitch doing extra passing, shooting,” Cocu added.

“It’s a real pleasure working with him. We have a lot of youngsters and to make the decision to get them in the team or even playing will mean some players with more experience are not in the team. It’s a big step.”

This was Knight’s first.

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About the author:

David Sneyd  / Reports from Pride Park

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