Pompey’s entertainer has left the building

Kyle Bennett takes Iain McInnes' wallet during the League Two title-winning celebrations. Picture: Joe Pepler
Kyle Bennett takes Iain McInnes' wallet during the League Two title-winning celebrations. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Iffy Onuora crashed through the becalmed mood which had descended upon Pompey’s training ground.

‘There’s no Benno,’ came the cry as his booming laugh ruptured the serene ambience.

Thursday represented the first occasion since May 2015 that Kyle Bennett was not present for duty at the Roko venue. His absence was unmistakable.

The class clown, the noisy presence, the persistent pest impossible to be silenced. He was the joker in the League Two title-winners’ pack.

Yet as the Blues’ squad reconvened following the day off which coincided with the transfer deadline, one of their number was missing.

Certainly the climate change had been sensed by Onuora, the Professional Footballers’ Association’s regional coach on one of his occasional visits.

Life after Bennett had begun. Instead he was off wreaking his customary hullabaloo at the training home of Bristol Rovers, inevitably establishing a lasting first impression.

It was surely fitting that the press pack’s last encounter with the 27-year-old involved his Monday mocking of the distinctive suit sported by The News’ work experience lad.

The majority of Pompey’s players unfurl a cheery hello when passing by on the occasions of press days. With Bennett, there was always the addition of a flippant comment.

The local press, both currently serving and those who have since moved jobs, will no doubt testify Bennett’s immense popularity among our circle. Over the years, few Blues players can match such collective lofty regard.

During the aftermath of promotion at Meadow Lane, Bennett whisked away the glasses of Express FM’s Niall McCaughan during a post-match interview.

Subsequent dressing room footage shows him wearing them, while they later made an appearance during the Victory Lounge celebrations. Niall never got them back.

Likewise, he has remained a hugely likeable dressing room character through the Paul Cook era and then Kenny Jackett regime.

When Danny Rose was taken to QA Hospital after sustaining his broken leg, the first team-mate to visit was Bennett.

Inevitably, when I recently sat down with Rose at training ground for an interview on his progress, the winger twice popped up to interrupt. ‘He’s not going on about that injury again, is he?’ came the cry.

Of course, while his dressing-room presence will be sorely missed, it is the effectiveness of his 117 appearances for which the former Doncaster Rovers man will be judged by in Pompey history.

Bennett was personable with the fans, always willing to stop for a chat, yet never won over some of the Fratton faithful. They remained unconvinced, even on occasions of match-winning brilliance.

For a player who netted 13 times and registered in excess of 20 assists, he had moments of excellence, despite the detractors.

By his own admission, Bennett believes he contributed to subsequent criticism by creating an impossible goal-scoring bar after netting twice on his Pompey debut.

On the opening day of the 2015-16 season, the summer recruit struck twice and laid on the third for fellow debutant Gareth Evans in a 3-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge.

They were to be his sole Blues goals that year, next striking in the 2-2 FA Cup third-round draw at Ipswich in January 2016.

Similarly, last season he also struggled for goals – until the pivotal March 2017 trip to Crawley.

The three-time promotion winner subsequently registered five times in his final 11 matches, including a spell of four successive games.

Only Kal Naismith outscored him during that period. Incidentally, the only defeat in that decisive 12-game run arrived at Stevenage – when both were injured.

On the day Cheltenham were hammered 6-1 during Pompey’s remarkable title triumph, the Wolves fan scored the second and provided an assist for the third, recorded by Naismith.

Ever the showman, during the following day’s celebrations on Southsea Common, he cartwheeled onto the stage, colliding with Naismith in the process.

Then he lifted Iain McInnes’ wallet, a gesture referring to the chairman’s pledge to contribute towards a squad holiday should they claim the League Two title.

Such spirits were a far cry from January 2016 when Bennett’s mum, Tracey, emailed her thanks for my article backing him during a spell of particularly noisy fan criticism.

Irrespective of regular harsh words spat his way from a section of his own support, the winger never shied away from receiving the ball, nor dodged his desire to create.

The end product could disappoint, without doubt, particularly during shooting opportunities, but Bennett’s bravery never faltered. Players can hide at Fratton Park – he revelled in such responsibility.

As for defensive duties, his work-rate was remarkable, creating a magnificent left-sided partnership with the excellent Enda Stevens.

Perhaps the departure of Cook was the beginning of Bennett’s Pompey demise. Only two weeks earlier he signed a three-year deal in the belief the man who brought out the best in him would be rejecting Wigan.

Under new boss Kenny Jackett, he finally received the run of games he craved at the start of October, albeit in the number 10 role.

Sadly, Bennett couldn’t respond to such a golden opportunity. During 22 games, crucially he failed to score and was unable to assist.

So that’s Stevens, Michael Doyle, Gary Roberts, Carl Baker and now Bennett.

Yet their immense contribution is forever ingrained in Fratton folklore.