League Two strugglers Torquay United yesterday announced the appointment of Alan Knill as the club’s interim manager until the end of the season. Knill will work with assistant manager Shaun Taylor, who had taken over the first-team reigns following normal boss Martin Ling’s illness which has kept him out of action since late January. Knill, a former Wales international, now has fourteen games to save Torquay from the relegation battle that they have slipped into in Ling’s absence.
Since hanging up his playing boots in 2001, Knill has managed Rotherham United, Bury and Scunthorpe United, enjoying most of his managerial success to date at Bury. The 48-year-old’s first foray into management came in January 2005 as caretaker boss of Rotherham, and despite only leading the side to two victories in his 11 games in charge, Knill was given the job permanently in December of that year. Knill was slightly more successful during his permanent spell at Millmoor, recording a win rate of 28.13%. However, was sacked by Rotherham in March 2007 after a dire run of 14 games without a win, and it took him just under a year to find another job, as manager of League Two side Bury.
Knill’s stay at Gigg Lane was vastly more successful, and after saving the club from relegation to the Conference after his appointment in February 2o08, he led the club to a fourth-placed finish in his 2008-09, his first full season in charge, only missing out on automatic promotion by one goal. The 2009-10 campaign followed a similar pattern until February, when a disastrous run of form saw The Shakers drop out of the promotion race and end the season in mid-table. Towards the end of 2010-11 Knill left for Championship strugglers Scunthorpe United; shortly afterwards Bury finally secured promotion to League One, with new manager Richie Barker building on the foundations that Knill had laid.
Knill could have been forgiven for soon questioning his decision to leave a Bury side on the up – his first game in charge of Scunthorpe was a 6-0 loss to Norwich – and with only eight games remaining, he was unable to prevent the second tier’s bottom club from relegation to League One. His first full season in charge culminated in a disappointing bottom-half finish, and on 29 October 2012 the club lost patience with Knill and sacked him. Two months earlier he had been lucky to escape without serious injuries after a cycling accident caused by a squirrel; his subsequent comment that “the situation we [Scunthorpe] are in at the moment, I don’t cherish, but there are worse situations” possibly led the board to believe he was not the man for another relegation battle.
However, that is exactly what Knill finds himself in now after joining Torquay, who are currently five points clear of the drop zone, having lost their last five games under makeshift boss Taylor. It’s a far cry from last season, in which Ling’s side rallied after Christmas to push for automatic promotion, only missing out on the final day of the season. Knill will inherit a squad low on confidence, and with his first game against rampant league leaders Port Vale, he will do well to avoid a repeat of his first game at the helm at Scunthorpe.
It appears that Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at fellow strugglers Aldershot Town was the final straw for United chairman Simon Baker, who had revealed Taylor had previously turned down his offer of a coach to provide assistance. One Torquay fan even claims that when asked during the defeat to Aldershot if Taylor knew “what he was doing”, Baker replied “I don’t think so, no”!
The chairman yesterday revealed that Knill’s appointment came on the back of recommendations from his former colleagues: “Alan was suggested to us by some people in the football industry,” said Baker. “We had drawn up a shortlist and we checked up on Alan with people he had worked with, and they all gave him a glowing reference.” Baker also hinted that Knill’s contacts and “good relationship[s] with Manchester United and Everton” could lead to an influx of loan players to aid Torquay’s fight for survival.
With the new man having attended the Aldershot game in order to run the rule over the club’s players, Torquay fans will be hoping Knill recognises the need to move creative midfielder Nathan Craig – too often wasted on the right-hand side, despite being left-footed – into the middle of the park, and to make more use of recent loan signing Elliot Benyon, who has been borrowed from Southend United. Despite being brought in by Taylor to score the goals needed to convert 1-0 losses into draws and victories, Benyon has played just 55 minutes, all from the bench, in the three games he has been available. Supporters will also have been encouraged by Knill’s reputation as a fan of passing football, developed at Bury – too often this season United have resorted to playing aimless long balls in the vague direction of targetman Rene Howe.
Torquay remain in the dark about the extent of Ling’s illness – although Baker vaguely revealed that the manager is “making progress”, it is still unclear whether or not he will be able to take over the reigns from Knill at the end of the season.