FOR ten members of the Bradford City team that will line up against Sunderland tomorrow, the FA Cup fifth-round tie will offer an opportunity to relive the glory that accompanied the League One side’s victory over Chelsea in the previous round.

For one player, however, a different, more personal, motivation will be coursing through the veins.

Billy Knott was 19 when he joined Sunderland in 2011. Even at that stage of his career, he was regarded in some quarters as spoiled goods following his release from Chelsea after an incident involving a smoke grenade that led to the Premier League club’s training ground having to be evacuated. Even today, a confidentiality agreement prevents both Knott and Chelsea from expanding on what occurred.

A number of clubs toyed with the idea of signing him, only to row back, but Sunderland took the plunge and Knott remained at the club for three-and-a-half years. During that time, he made 82 senior appearances. The problem was that only one of them was for Sunderland.

Loan spells at AFC Wimbledon, Woking, Wycombe and Port Vale say much about Knott’s standing during the majority of his time on Wearside, and while Paolo Di Canio gave him a senior debut in the closing stages of a 1-0 defeat at Tottenham on the final day of the 2012-13 season – a game that is best remembered for the Italian’s post-match tirade at Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole – his departure on a free transfer to Bradford last July went barely unnoticed.

Rejected by two top-flight clubs, it would have been easy for Knott to turn his back on the game. Instead, he has emerged as one of the most dynamic midfielders in League One, with his composed performance in last month’s 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge providing a powerful rebuttal to those at Chelsea who never believed he would make it.

There are plenty at Sunderland who said the same, and as he prepares to take on the Black Cats for the first time tomorrow, Knott is determined to extract a second dose of revenge.

“I will be going out there to prove a bit of a point that I can play,” said the 22-year-old, who won England youth honours during his time at Chelsea. “I finally got in when Di Canio was there, but by then it had really come a bit too late.

“When I first moved up to Sunderland, I always knew it would be a case of either being released or being in their first team, but during my time there, there weren’t a lot of youngsters who got their chance.

Steve Bruce tried to do it a bit – John Egan was in and around the squad – but then unfortunately Bruce left. The club started chopping and changing managers, and in that situation, nobody’s going to go with youngsters.”

Circumstances undoubtedly conspired against Knott during his time in the North-East, and he is right to highlight a succession of relegation fights as a key reason why a number of different Sunderland managers were extremely reluctant to blood academy products.

Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback progressed from the academy into the first team, but over the course of the last decade or so, it is hard to think of too many other youngsters who carved out a place in the senior ranks.

The Northern Echo:

Unlike at Chelsea, Knott’s behaviour was never a problem at the Academy of Light. He was regarded in some quarters as cocky, but developed a close relationship with Kevin Ball, who always felt he was capable of going on to bigger and better things.

Ultimately, his tale reflects just how difficult it is for a young player to make his mark in the Premier League, and things are only going to get harder on that score as the latest lucrative television deal makes it even more imperative that clubs in the bottom half of the table safeguard their top-flight status.

“It was a great couple of years up there at Sunderland, and everyone was helping me along in the youth team and reserves,” said Knott. “Kevin Ball was fantastic with me even though I played up a little bit. He brought me down a peg or two when it was needed and I learned a lot from him.

“Unfortunately, it was just a case of getting over the line and into the first team. If you’re flying high as a team, don’t need to put in any young lads. If you’re down the bottom, you’re scared to do it because you might get relegated. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Tomorrow, Knott will attempt to show Sunderland what they missed, and while there are 36 places between the two opponents, the Bradford midfielder is far from the only person who feels the Valley Parade pitch could prove something of a leveller.

The Northern Echo:

“They won’t like coming down and playing on our pitch,” he said. “Some of our players have to adapt their game, including me, play a bit more defensively and put balls in the channels more.

“We will rattle into them and ruffle a few feathers, and the fans are going to be unreal. They realise what we’ve done this year, and this is the furthest we’ve got (in the FA Cup) for a long time.”