Knudsen’s long throws caused problems at the World Cup... but how will he fit in under Hurst at Ipswich?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 02 July 2018
If Paul Hurst was watching the World Cup while packing his bag for Spain on Sunday night, he will surely have enjoyed getting a glimpse of the new set-piece weapon at his disposal.
The new Ipswich Town manager has spent hour after hour watching footage of his new side’s games from last season ahead of this week’s training camp near Alicante, but Jonas Knudsen’s long throws will not have featured in too many of those highlight reels.
The Dane was brought into his country’s side for their last-16 clash with Croatia in Russia, tasked with dropping bombs into the opponents’ penalty area. He found his target within 60 seconds, as his hurl into the box caused carnage in the Croatian defence and led to Mathias Jorgensen turning the ball home.
“I do not think they knew about my throw-in,” Knudsen said. “At least they did not seem to be aware of it.
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“It was great that we scored on it and I also told Jon Dahl (Tomasson, assistant manager) that if I were to play we would score on throws. So it was great that it happened.”
It has been a different story in an Ipswich shirt, though. Knudsen managed seven assists in 2017/18, but none came via a long throw in a season where his set-piece was called upon on fewer occasions than in his previous two campaigns.
In truth, they have never truly looked like making anything happen during his three years at the club.
Do the tight run-off areas at the side of the Portman Road pitch make it tough for him to generate the necessary power? Was he instructed to float the ball into the near post and look for a flick-on? Because that’s where the majority ended up.
Either way, his efforts in Nizhny Novgorod prove he can be a major threat with ball in hand as his flat throws flew into the area with heat and zip not often seen in Ipswich blue. While a long throw is not an asset to build a team around, Hurst and assistant Chris Doig’s liking for set inventive set-pieces means his is a weapon they will be excited to work with.
But what does Knudsen’s Ipswich Town future look like under the new manager?
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The 25-year-old was a nailed on starter under previous manager Mick McCarthy and has been open in his disappointment after his former boss departed, but Hurst has insisted each and every one of his players begin with a clean slate.
The two have been in contact while new father Knudsen has been in Russia with his country, with the defender now given extended leave while the rest of his team-mates work under the Spanish sun.
In his absence, young full-back Myles Kenlock will be looking to stake a claim for the starting left-back slot. The homegrown youngster performed well during his 18 appearances last season and offers more going forward, although he perhaps better suits a wing back role rather than playing on the left of a back four.
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Many of Kenlock’s appearances during the last campaign came when Knudsen was pressed into action in the middle of defence, either as part of a back three or in the middle of a flat back four. The Dane performed well there, with his tough, physical approach to the game taking extra prominence as he looked to protect the middle of the pitch. Given Luke Chambers is currently the only senior centre half in the Ipswich squad, it’s a role he could comfortably take on on a full-time basis.
Hurst’s appointment is a fresh start for every member of the Ipswich squad and, even though he was a clear favourite of McCarthy’s and missed just 14 league games under his former boss over three years, you feel Knudsen is a player who has an extra gear to rediscover.
His game has subtly changed during his three seasons at Portman Road, most notably in his choice of pass, and there is a sense he could offer more going forward.
If you look back at Hurst’s Grimsby and Shrewsbury sides, Knudsen ticks plenty of the boxes his new manager values. He’s supremely fit, can run all day and is a solid full-back who values the defensive side of his game. It figures to be a good partnership on all sides.
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His contract situation is one to watch, as he enters the final 12 months of his deal after the club took up the option on his current contract just before the turn of the year.
Unless a new contract is agreed then his value will never be higher than it is now and, of course, Hurst may decide to cash in on the defender should post-World Cup interest materialise.
“If a new manager comes in and wants to sign me and the owner wants to give me a new deal then I am ready to talk because I’m very happy here,” he said in April, while also admitting the departure of McCarthy has led him to think about his future.
But, for now, he will be basking in the glow of becoming just the 10th Ipswich player to play in a World Cup match and spending time with his wife and new daughter, before returning to Ipswich to stake his claim to his new boss.
“It was amazing,” Knudsen said of his World Cup experience. “I had expected to get the chance and it was a great experience. I had to be ready if the chance was fine, and it was nice to get the game, but at the same time, sad to not move on.”