ALAN Knill, the Scunthorpe manager, was responsible for handing Will Hoskins his first big break in the professional game.
But, despite enjoying an excellent relationship spanning more than six years, the two men are set to find themselves on opposite sides of the footballing divide when the League One strugglers visit Sheffield United this evening.
Hoskins, despite being heralded as one of the region’s most promising talents after progressing through the ranks with United’s neighbours Rotherham, had enjoyed only sporadic deployments at first-team level until Knill’s appointment midway through the 2005/06 campaign.
The gamble paid off in spectacular fashion and set Hoskins on a journey which, following spells with Watford, Bristol Rovers and Brighton, culminated in him securing a potentially career-defining move to Bramall Lane four weeks ago.
“Alan was a massive influence on me,” Hoskins said. “We had a great relationship and he just knew me as a person and treated me well.
“So when he became the manager at Rotherham and gave me a chance it suited me perfectly.”
Hoskins repaid Knill’s faith by scoring 16 goals in 27 outings before a combination of his prolific form and financial problems at Millmoor saw him included in the deal which also spirited Lee Williamson to Vicarage Road in 2007.
With Danny Wilson electing to make him United’s most significant acquisition of the recent transfer window, Hoskins, who is scheduled to spend the rest of the season on loan in South Yorkshire, has now resurrected his partnership with the midfielder.
“I’m still young but I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the game,” Hoskins continued. “So it’s all a bonus when you look back.”
Knill, a no-nonsense defender during his own playing days, demands similar dedication from his squad at Glanford Park. Paul Reid, one of the players he inherited after taking charge of the north Lincolnshire club in March last year, is expected to feature against United this evening despite breaking his nose for the second time in a week during Scunthorpe’s goalless draw with Brentford.
“I’d be very, very surprised if Reid doesn’t play,” Knill’s assistant, Chris Brass, said. “He reckoned this one hurt a lot more and so fair play to him because I know what it feels like when your nose gets broken.”
Midfielder Jimmy Ryan is also set for a return to the Scunthorpe squad after confirming his recovery from a long-standing knee problem.
“Match fitness is something Jimmy might struggle with,” Brass acknowledged. “He’s an attack-minded player who gives us that little bit of extra quality and there’s been no reaction.”
Knill departed Rotherham soon after Hoskins’ switch to Hertfordshire. Having taken charge of Bury following a brief spell as a member of Chesterfield’s backroom staff, his success at Gigg Lane prompted Scunthorpe to come calling towards the end of last term.
Knill’s hopes of leading his employers back to the Championship at the first attempt have long since been dashed ny injuries.
But the return of some key names, including David Mirfin and Damien Mozika, coupled with a series of shrewd manoeuvres in the transfer market, have prompted an upturn in results of late.
Indeed, they make the short journey south beaten only twice in nine outings.
Teams and ref
BLADES (possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Jean-Francois, Doyle, Williamson, Quinn, Hoskins, Cresswell, Evans (4-4-2).
SCUNTHORPE (possible): Slocombe, Mirfin, Reid, Ribeiro, Reckford, Togwell, O’Connor, Walker, Duffy, Parkin, Barcham (4-4-2).
Paul Tierney: From Lancashire, Tierney has issued nine red cards so far this season. He sent off eight players last term and averages 3.44 cautions per game since August. Tonight will be the first time he has taken charge of a competitive fixture at Bramall Lane.