Pompey's class act which some refuse to see

There were no seats for Pompey's walking wounded, the spontaneous trip had its drawbacks.

Saturday, 30th April 2016, 10:30 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:42 pm
Kyle Bennett, with hood up, alongside Pompey team-mates Jack Whatmough and Conor Chaplin and Blues supporters on the trip to AFC Wimbledons Kingsmeadow on Tuesday night

It was Adam Webster who volunteered to drive the injured quintet to Kingsmeadow on Tuesday night to watch Paul Cook’s side in action.

There was certainly no instruction from above to attend, the desire to watch their team-mates secure a play-off spot luring enough.

So, chauffeured by ankle ligament injury-victim Webster, the hour-long journey along the A3M was negotiated by Conor Chaplin, Marc McNulty, Jack Whatmough and Kyle Bennett.

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Upon arrival, the headache was identifying somewhere to watch proceedings from against AFC Wimbledon.

The outcome involved squeezing in among the 911 away supporters to cheer a gutsy and fighting display which yielded a 1-0 triumph.

For Bennett it was an evening of solidarity among a support whose number have, on occasions, brutally turned on his brand of wing play.

During Cook’s reign, no player has divided the Fratton faithful more effectively than the summer arrival from Doncaster Rovers, currently sidelined by an ankle injury.

Yet there he was on an evening ceasefire, shoulder-to-shoulder with supporters bonded by the appetite to cheer on the Blues rather than participate in the regular dissection of his on-pitch existence.

Most have encountered a vocal critic of Bennett from their respective match-day vantage point, it has been impossible to ignore.

Incidentally, Gary Roberts was consistently vilified by an away supporter at Barnet in February, although the fan failed to realise the midfielder had actually left the pitch injured after eight minutes.

The real identity of his ire remains unclear, yet prompted bewilderment among fellow followers during that 1-0 Hive defeat.

In Bennett’s case, he has attracted more criticism than any member of Cook’s squad during a league campaign which, in terms of points and wins, ranks as their most productive since the 2002-3 Division One winners.

Using Monty Python parlance, it is all rather reminiscent of a memorable scene from Life of Brian.

‘All right, all right, but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order – what have the Romans done for us?’

Bennett has supplied seven goals and 13 assists, been directly involved in 24.1 per cent of Pompey’s goals, was named in League Two managers’ top-15 players of the season, and is a component in the club’s second-best league campaign for 23 years.

Apart from that, what has he done for Pompey?

You see, Bennett will never convince everyone of his worth. To the rigid few his best is simply not good enough.

There are football supporters across the country who lampoon David James, dig up the ‘Calamity’ name tag and ridicule his ability.

They never saw him play regularly, yet the mindset is locked.

Those that watched will testify he was one of the finest goalkeepers their club has fielded, certainly in the eyes of the Fratton faithful.

Bennett has made 49 appearances for the Blues – and still not managed to persuade his worth to all his club’s fans.

Here is a creative player brave on the ball, willing to risk dispossession through his attacking instincts, and has an admirable refusal to go hiding when in uncomfortable situations.

The 25-year-old has also demonstrated a welcome propensity to work hard and, on occasions, a willingness to track back and tackle.

Most crucial of all, there is an end product. And there is – just look at the aforementioned statistics.

Bennett will take risks in advanced positions, a fearless approach which inevitably has the potential to fail.

In contrast, others can hack out a career from existing inside the centre circle, tip-toeing between belt-and-braces passes, while lacking courage on the ball in pursuit of glory.

Remember Therry Racon – an attacking midfielder highly-regarded by some? In 32 Blues outings spread over a two-season stay, he failed to register a single goal or assist.

Of course, the issue of Bennett centres on honest perception. Supporters naturally won’t agree on the strengths and weaknesses of every player, it’s how opinions work.

Last year Jed Wallace had his critics, despite overwhelmingly voted The News/Sports Mail Player of the Season amid a number of other awards decided by supporters.

One prolific sniper on The News’ comments section persistently reiterated his belief the midfielder was of non-league quality.

A damning indictment on a 21-year-old who netted 17 times in 50 matches for a team which recorded Pompey’s lowest Football League finish.

Taking the debate to an extreme, Tal Ben Haim endured ground-breaking low popularity during his Fratton Park days on the basis of a stinking attitude, regular refusal to sign autographs for children and the delay in reaching agreement to cancel a Premier League-valued contract.

In an August 2012 pre-season friendly at Aldershot, he was booed by both sets of supporters.

Bennett has been booed on several occasions this season, unmistakably too, albeit by a small minority.

The reaction was not blindly hurled at a hapless referee or the nasty, snarling midfield player – but Pompey’s number 23.

Outside of football, Bennett is an affable, respectful, highly-likeable and mischievous character, popular among team-mates and staff.

Similarly, League Two managers envy his presence at Pompey, while Cook treasures it.

Effective wingers blessed with the ability to create are prized property – for very good reason.