Cambridge United forward Harvey Knibbs reflects on his development in recent seasons after winning the Love Cambridge Player of the Month award for September
If they continue at this rate then the Sam Smith and Harvey Knibbs residence is going to need a bigger mantlepiece.
Four goals – including a hat-trick against Burton Albion – saw Smith collect the inaugural Love Cambridge Player of the Month award for August, while September’s prize – voted for once again by Cambridge United fans – has gone the way of fellow forward and house-mate Knibbs.
The 23-year-old caught the eye with a match-winning goal from the substitutes’ bench in the 2-1 victory at Morecambe, while he also laid on assists in games against Lincoln City and Cheltenham Town.
It all serves as further evidence of the progress Knibbs has made since he arrived at the Abbey Stadium in 2019 without a senior appearance to his name.
Back then the son of former Bristol Rugby Club player Ralph was a raw striker, one that had spent time within the youth set-ups of Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa prior to moving east.
But now Knibbs believes he has become much more of a rounded footballer. The desire to score goals burns as brightly as ever, yet he is also thriving as more of a team player in his slightly deeper role.
“I’m happy with where I am at. When I first came to Cambridge I felt like I was only adapted to one position, being up front,” he said during our interview outside the Cambridge Chop House on King’s Parade.
“Trying out other positions, I’ve become more versatile and that has really kicked my game on.
“I played a lot on the wing last year and more in the (number) 10 role this year. I’d say I’m more versatile, but with how I feel right now you just want to get better and I’d say there’s a lot more to come as well.
“I’ve got a target for goals and assists separately – (the goals) is definitely to get double figures because I’ve got nine in two of my seasons at the club. But in the number 10 position assists are also key. To start the season with three goals and three assists, it’s been a really positive start.
“I’ve always been a striker growing up but I feel in the system we’ve got the number 10 role is really good for me.
“It’s a position where I can help to set our off the ball press. Bonz (Mark Bonner, head coach) says I sort of play two positions when I’m in that role.
“I can help back and be an eight defensively but then I get forward to stretch teams and help Joey (Ironside) or Sam if they’re playing through the middle.
“I’ve always been unselfish with my running. When we get the running stats back after the game I’m up there leading.
“I don’t mind putting in that work if it helps us to get the results.”
Someone that has played a leading role in Knibbs’ development is first-team coach Barry Corr.
The Bristol-born attacker revealed in an interview with the Cambridge Independent in July 2020 that he had sat down with Corr – then United’s development coach – ahead of his debut campaign getting under way.
Together they set Knibbs a handful of targets and it is a tradition that has continued.
And Corr’s experience of leading the attack for the likes of Southend United, Exeter City and the U’s is proving to be invaluable.
“Barry has been there throughout my whole journey (at Cambridge), he’s always there for advice whenever I need it,” said Knibbs.
“He was obviously a very good forward and he takes our striker sessions. At the end of the session, if ever you want to do extra finishing he’s always there for it. I still sit down with him at the start of each season and talk about any weak points.
“I gave him one tactical thing for me to work on (this season) and one physical thing in my game, but I don’t want to give those away! They’ve changed a lot though from when we first did it in 2019.”
But while Knibbs continues to make pleasing strides forward, that is no guarantee of a place within Mark Bonner’s starting line-up.
Competition for places in those four attacking berths is rife – something Knibbs discovered when he was named on the bench at Morecambe and last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Derby County.
Yet he reacted to the news of his absence in a positive fashion by securing all three points with a late winner on the Lancashire coast, while he was one of few bright sparks in the loss to the Rams.
“All the best teams in the league and throughout football, you want to have that healthy competition as it pushes everyone on and it keeps the training standards high,” he responded when quizzed about the battle for supremacy among the front players.
“As the manager alluded to at the start of the season, we’ve got eight very good attacking players for those positions so there is always going to be competition for places.
“With the amount of games we’ve got coming across October, everyone has got to understand there is going to be rotation and if you’re coming out the team it means a good player is going in.
“Like the Morecambe game, you’ve got to be ready to impact it when you come on.
“With football I always think all you can do is control the controllables. All I can do is everything I can and then the gaffer picks the team.
“Obviously I’d like to play every single minute and I’m not happy when I do get the call that I’m not starting, but I’ll still do everything right, help the boys as much as I can and hopefully when I do get on the pitch I make an impact.”
And there is also some healthy rivalry when Knibbs gets home.
He has developed a close bond off the pitch with Smith, and Knibbs is keen to follow his friend’s lead from last term when he bagged more than 20 goals.
“Me and Sam have got a really tight understanding,” he said. “We live together, we do a lot of the same gym programmes and we take our nutrition really seriously.
“The fact he did so well last year shows the work me and him put in is paying off and hopefully I can hit similar numbers.”