Former Newcastle starlet Knight finding his feet in Northern League

TALENT ... Dennis Knight celebrates a goal for Newcastle's reserves in 2012.
TALENT ... Dennis Knight celebrates a goal for Newcastle's reserves in 2012.

BEING released by their boyhood club hits many players hard.

Some never recover from the bitter blow, and drift away into obscurity, while others find the resolve to fight their way to the top.

When Dennis Knight left Newcastle in February 2013, he must have felt like his career was slipping away.

After leaving the Magpies – the club he joined at the age of eight – he was not short on options, though.

Hartlepool United quickly invited him on trial, and he impressed, scoring twice in a game for the club’s reserves.

However, Knight ultimately decided to join Championship side Barnsley on a short-term deal in late-March.

The teenager failed to make an impact there, but resurfaced in November when he signed for Northern League Division One outfit West Auckland Town.

It was a big coup for the club, but highlighted just how far Knight had fallen down the pecking order of English football.

On a cold night in Peterlee yesterday, though, he showed his career can not yet be written off.

Knight was introduced as a 62nd minute substitute in West Auckland’s Durham Challenge Cup tie against South Shields with the score at 0-0, and his quality was immediately obvious.

He took over all set-piece duties, appeared to be constantly on the ball, and was a menace at all times.

The 19-year-old got his reward on 74 minutes when he smashed a left foot shot into the top corner after seeing an initial effort blocked.

He made it two just seven minutes later when he cut in from the right before rifling home, and the forward soon completed a 12-minute hat-trick.

Knight headed home at the far post after some good work on the left, and helped set up the fourth and final goal with a crisp pass from the halfway line.

It was a stunning performance from the youngster, who had reportedly attracted the interest of Gateshead before signing for West Auckland.

And on this evidence, Knight is going to be quite an asset to West Auckland for the rest of the season.

The Northern League is providing him with a platform to rebuild his career, and if he can turn in performances like that consistently, he won’t be at that level for long.

These may still be baby steps for a player like Knight, but he will now be looking to prove there is life after professional football in the North East.

The relative dearth of professional clubs in the region – compared to, say, London, the North West and the Midlands – means many talents fall off the radar, with the Northern League benefitting from that.

Knight is one of a number of former top prospects plying their trade at that level, and he certainly won’t be the last.

He is a case in point, that players tipped for greatness as youngsters should not be built up too much, as less than two years ago he was at Newcastle and backed to make the top.

This is particularly a problem at Newcastle, where many players have progressed well, and then seemingly hit a brick wall.

Barriers are there which make it difficult for youngsters to make it unless they show immediate evidence they are ready for first-team football, with cheap alternatives from France available to come in and replace them in the development team.

Players simply do not advance from the academy to a status as a first-team regular these days on Tyneside.

While it is hard to tell whether Knight is a victim of that, he is certainly full of talent, and it could be argued he should have been given longer to prove himself at Newcastle.

He is now slogging away in the Northern League, perhaps getting back to basics as he looks to enjoy his football again.

Knight has a long way to go before he can think about reaching the level of the game he once dreamed of, but he is going in the right direction.

And with youngsters like him lighting up the competition, the Northern League can only thrive.

Newcastle’s loss may be the non-league’s gain.