ROI Radar: Analysing Jason Knight’s Man of the Match display for Bristol City
Jason Knight scored two and assisted another for Bristol City earlier this week.
Ireland midfielder Jason Knight has taken to life at his new club Bristol City pretty much as well as anybody could have hoped.
A solid first outing against Preston in the Championship saw Knight help his team to a 1-1 draw, but Wednesday’s Man of the Match performance versus Oxford United in the Carabao Cup is what has people talking.
Jason Knight in top form for Bristol City yesterday with two goals and one assist!
— Kenny's Kids (@KennysKids) August 9, 2023
Knight spoke before about wanting to add goals and assists to his game and he did just that on Wednesday by scoring two and assisting one in the Robins’ 5-1 victory.
And chatting to the media after the game, he reiterated that desire – a desire perhaps intensified by getting a taste for it so early in the season
His excellent performance should be contextualised by pointing out that Oxford are a League One outfit – in other words, just because Knight is now with a Championship club, this piece isn’t suggesting that he has returned to Championship life with ease.
Oxford are opponents Knight would have faced a couple of times with Derby, but this time the O’s encountered a more attack-minded Knight.
— Bristol City FC (@BristolCity) August 9, 2023
Whereas he often found himself either playing at right-back or as an industrious midfielder for Derby, it seems – albeit based on very early evidence – that new boss Nigel Pearson will allow him to marry his elite work-ethic with greater offensive freedom this season. As we will see in the below analysis (and have seen for Ireland before), Knight’s pressing intensity is a brilliant tool for chance creation in itself.
Promisingly however, Wednesday’s match showed us a player who can threaten opponents not just off the ball but on it too. Be it applying pressure on defenders, winning back possession, moving intelligently in the box, or teeing up teammates; Knight was pivotal to everything good Bristol City managed to produce in the tie.
Jason Knight: Analysis from Bristol City Vs Oxford United
In addition to goal contributions, Knight was the game’s most fouled player (four free-kicks won) and two of those came early in the game. His tidy footwork in tight spaces, coupled with game intelligence beyond his years, enabled the former Cabinteely man to draw frees at useful moments. He has some fortune with the interception in the above clip but his swivelling dribble to earn the foul afterwards was no accident. It’s the kind of moment that helps Ireland to no end when they need to relieve pressure against heavy hitters like France or Portugal.
Noticeable throughout these clips is Knight’s cunning awareness of where his markers are. Scanning your surroundings before receiving possession is absolutely fundamental for any player but what you do with that information is what counts. In cases like the above GIF, Knight selects the optimum movement that will distress his opponent most. In this case he lets the ball reach his right-foot mid turn and his second touch off his left is enough to brush himself goal-side. Oxford are suddenly in danger so are glad to concede the free-kick.
Knight’s freakish fitness might be his greatest strength but a fair share of his good work can be attributed to his head. His discipline to stall his run in the above clip is richly rewarded as he capitalises on Oxford’s panic to find himself in acres of space with time to shoot. Unlike the Oxford players, he isn’t tempted to dart goalward – that’s what creates the chance – but what converts the chance is a really fine finish. To retreat and still angle his body for such a clean bottom-corner directed strike is as technically impressive as anything we’ve seen from him. To execute it so well bodes well for a full season of Championship football where the ambition is to become a goal contributing ten.
There was another chance before he found his second. In the most typical fashion, Knight’s eyes light up as the opportunity to aggressively press the Oxford centre-half presents itself. The acceleration is fairly remarkable; catching his opposition off guard, short on ideas and with sparse space or time to react. He showed a clean pair of heels to burst through on goal too, but the ‘keeper did well to close the angle.
Movement is, again, the key word for his second goal. Rather than single-mindedly finding space in the box, he first identifies the defender trying to stop him. From there he’s smart enough to pin his man, drag him away with a dummy run to the left and swiftly readjust to enjoy some self-created space. Great game smarts are definitely on display, but don’t underestimate the technical poise required to make such nuanced movements and still manage to apply a sweet finish at the end of it all. He will take plenty of confidence from bagging a brace but it would also have given his coaches extra confidence in his ability to be a source of goals for their team. Maybe that was needed too, given that he managed just 12 in 152 games for his previous employers.
His assist came courtesy of the Jason Knight endeavour we are all more used to. Relentless. Dogged. Determined. Knight to a centre-half. A bull to a cloth. Ireland fans might ponder whether the team is better served with a more traditional ‘number ten’ – the closest thing at the moment being Will Smallbone or Jamie McGrath – but it is wrong to think that Knight’s value only extends as far as stopping attacks. With pressing this aggressive, he can certainly start them too – forcing errors through pressing can have the same outcome as a beautifully weighted through ball. If the opponents typically play out from the back, he is probably the best option of all. He was, after all, conspicuous by his absence in Ireland’s 2-1 loss away to Greece.
Later in the game he had to deal with a rare Oxford attack. That meant he was running towards his own goal for a change but his pursuit of possession had the very same outcome. Ireland might be found wanting for top class players but with the battery-charged Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby in their ranks, what they do have are two midfielders as fit and determined as anyone in Europe. Those players have helped bridge the gap between Stephen Kenny’s team and their opponents, but quality will be needed to grab those all elusive results.
Playing as a free-roaming number ten in the Championship should not just uncover more of Knight’s skillset but also help mould him into the quality player he has long promised to be. Some would say his loyalty to Derby County stalled his career at an important juncture, so from that perspective this chance in the Championship comes with extra interest.
He has played in the division before but this time it isn’t as a teenager and this time it is unlikely to be in a relegation scrap. Most importantly, this time he will be expected to be an attacking contributor. Previous managers seemed content for Knight to put in the hard yards and leave the final touches to others but Pearson – to paraphrase Bill Shankly – doesn’t want him to just be a ‘piano carrier’ but a ‘piano player’ too. A relief then that his season has gotten off on just the right note.
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