ZAT Knight has had more tough times than most this season as Wanderers continually failed to live up to their billing.
Mercilessly booed by some of his own club’s fans after two early mistakes against Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day and targeted for criticism by a section of support before and since, good times such as Saturday have been thin on the ground.
So it was hard to think of anyone more deserving of a break in Dougie Freedman’s ranks than the club skipper, who registered his first goal in three-and-a-half years in the Elland Road demolition.
The last time Zat Knight got on the scoresheet Wanderers were en route to their finest Premier League run under Owen Coyle. A 2-2 draw against Manchester United at the Reebok, started with Knight’s close range effort, was followed by memorable wins over Spurs, Newcastle United – also 5-1, by the way – and Blackburn that saw the club rise briefly to fourth place.
Those days have seemed like a very distant memory this season, so no wonder Knight had forgotten his last strike.
After being told it was against United, the big defender grinned: “Was it? I don’t remember it, but I’ll be honest, I was happier with the clean sheet we got last week against Blackburn. “I’d love to score more goals. I try and set a target at the start of every season but I’ve never reached it.
“I’m just happy to be in the team. I felt I dropped out of it a bit unfairly recently. But I’m part of a squad and when I get in I’m the club captain and I’ve got to keep that spirit up.”
Knight’s role as a mentor to the younger players is not one often recognised by fans, but one that behind the scenes is rated highly by the Wanderers hierarchy.
No wonder, then, that the squad rallied around the defender quite so strongly after the public haranguing he got at the Reebok back in January.
Few footballers would answer quite so honestly when asked about the experience – but even after such an outstanding result at Leeds, Knight stood tall in the line of questioning.
“As a footballer I don’t think I deserve the stick I have got, but that’s part of it,” he said. “Everyone has got opinions and you have to get on with it.
“It would be easy for me to be a weak person and shy away, hide in my shell. But it’s not my character, I’ve played at the highest level. And that’s for a reason, because I can play football.
“As a team, we’ve let each other down from time to time. There have been times when I’ve let people down. But you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and then when you get the opportunity you go again.”
Knight also had words of praise for the club, who stood by manager Dougie Freedman despite some considerable pressure to take action in recent months.
“A few months ago a few managers got sacked but the chairman and the board stuck with him,” Knight said.
“I’ve always said I like the way the manager is, I like his style of football. But he puts 11 players on the pitch and sometimes I feel we’ve let him down.
“With the squad we have, fans will sometimes pick exactly the team that is out there, but we have let him down at times.
“Hopefully we can repay him and the fans for sticking with us and have a good finish.”