IF Stephen Quinn inspires Sheffield United to victory over his Scunthorpe team tomorrow, then at least Alan Knill will be able to take some consolation from the fact he helped make the visitors’ magical little midfielder the player he is today.
Knill, who took charge at Glanford Park in March, mentored the teenage Quinn when the former Republic of Ireland under-21 international joined Rotherham on loan at the start of his career.
“I can remember it well,” Knill told The Star last night. “At Rotherham we were really in financial dire straits at the time and Neil Warnock, who was still at United at the time, telephoned me to say he might be able to help us out.
“He let Quinny and Jonathan Forte come to us and, as far as I can remember, I don’t even think we had to pay a penny in wages.
“United covered the lot and it was very much appreciated.
“They both did really well for us.”
Although Forte, now of Southampton, has struggled to fulfil the potential he showcased as a youngster, Quinn has gone from strength to strength.
One of only a handful of big names who can claim to have performed as United spiralled towards relegation last season, the 25-year-old and his displays have been a major factors behind an impressive run which sees Danny Wilson’s side make the short journey north still unbeaten in League One this term.
“Quinny is a smashing lad and I’m chuffed to bits to see him doing so well,” Knill said. “I’m sure he won’t mind me hoping that he comes down with some sort of 24-hour virus on the eve of the match which keeps him out of action.
“Seriously, though, he is a terrific talent who you could always see was going to go on and make a real success of himself.
“His attitude really is superb.
“I think it helped Quinny coming to us because, suddenly, he was playing for three points rather than reserve-team football.
“There’s a massive difference because, when points are at stake, it means so are people’s livelihoods and professions.
“It really toughens you up.”
Stopping Quinn, who was courted by a number of Championship clubs during the recent transfer window, is one of the targets Knill has set his players as Scunthorpe look to halt United’s progress under Wilson.
Having won five of his first six matches in the competition, they head to Lincolnshire second in the table and looking to record a rare success at the ground where they have lost four of their previous five outings.
Scunthorpe, who were also relegated four months ago, are 19th but Knill said: “We could have won a lot more games and I’m considering the bigger picture.
“United are a massive club with massive expectations whereas I’m not sure ours are quite the same here.
“But don’t get me wrong, we’re just as ambitious and determined to do well as they are.
“I think our fans can see what we’re trying to do and both they and the chairman have been superb.
“One of the most important things we’ve been trying to do is getting the players the accept the situation they’re in and deal with it.
“Not so long ago they were going to Championship grounds and although there are some really good ones at this level, there’s nothing to be gained from wondering what might have been.
“That’s something we’ve been aware of when we’ve done recruitment.
“You’ve got to deal with what’s in front of you.”
Those words will strike a chord with Wilson whose down-to-earth, no-nonsense style has helped him win over many of those supporters who protested when his appointment was announced in May.
Likewise Knill’s admission that far from being cowed by their presence, Scunthorpe view this latest fixture as an opportunity to issue a statement of intent.
“Personally, I’m really looking forward to it,” Knill said. “For me it’s a chance to see where we are in relation to one of the biggest names were are going to face. Opponents who, not so long ago were in the Premier League.
“I’m sure our lads will be thinking exactly the same thing.”
Scunthorpe’s preparations have been overshadowed by the news that goalkeeper Josh Lillis has been ruled out of action for up to three months after damaging ligaments during the 1-1 draw with Colchester.
Manchester United’s Sam Johnstone was last night poised to be drafted in on loan as a replacement while negotiations were also taking place with Norwich City striker Oli Johnson.
Johnstone, who toured North America with Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad during pre-season, was a member of the side which beat United in the 2010 FA Youth Cup final.
Midfielder Michael Collins is expected to miss the game with an Achilles problem.
Scunthorpe are without a win this season but Knill, who also worked with Lee Williamson at Millmoor, warned United not to expect a red carpet welcome.
“One of the things that Scunthorpe have always been known for is being strong at home,” he said.
“For some reason that had gone a little bit astray when I came in here.
“I don’t know why because I obviously wasn’t party to everything that was going on here at the time.
“But it’s something I’m looking for us to get back.
“That attitude where people come here worried about getting nothing and then going away with nothing.
“We might not have the biggest ground in the world but, I tell you what, there can be one hell of an atmosphere created here by our fans.”