Manager happy to finally get his man
John Still was understandably delighted to be reunited with Paul Benson after the striker signed on a season-long loan from Swindon Town on Monday.
The 33-year-old forward joins his old boss three years after he left Dagenham & Redbridge for Charlton Athletic.
Benson, as his record in front of goal suggests, continued to hit the back of the net since he departed the Daggers, and Still is hopeful his latest recruit will carry on that form at Kenilworth Road.
“I think I’m getting a more knowledgeable player and certainly a more experienced one,” Still told Hatters Player.
“He likes to play down the middle; he’s a centre-forward, a number nine. Yes he can drop off, but he’s a centre-forward and good at his job.
“I’m delighted to be able to bring him in – it’s been a long, long drawn-out process, but fortunately it’s all worked out for us.
“Paul wanted to come here and only here. Not because of me but because he wants to do well. And I think he will.”
Still unearthed Benson as a 23-year-old playing in the Essex League for White Ensign, where he came to prominence having scored 107 goals in 65 games.
And the manager was all too keen to reminisce.
“I remember it well, I really do,” recalled Still. “Terry Harris and I went along as we were told by somebody to go and have a look at him. It was at a real low level, Dedham Sports it was. It was an early evening game, maybe a 4 or 5pm kick-off at the end of a season.
“I can’t remember if he had a bad game or not, but I remember bits of it. What Paul did show was instinct. Even at that low level that was something I noticed, that instinct – especially in strikers and goalscorers. The way they follow-up chances, shoot and anticipate.
“I said to Terry ‘you know what, we might have somebody here’. We brought him down to Dagenham for a reserve game and he did okay in that. We sat down with him afterwards and he made it clear he wanted to come and the rest, as they say, is history.”
However, in his debut season for the Daggers, in 2005/06, Benson only scored once in 26 Conference appearances.
But, in the following campaign he hit 28 goals as he helped the Daggers to the title and with it a first promotion to the Football League.
“He had some good competition in his first season,” said Still. “We had strikers like Craig Mackail-Smith, Tresor Kandol and Christian Moore at the time – so we had some decent forwards.
“Paul worked hard, though, he got fitter and he eventually became the man. I think his understanding of the game improved.
“Even in those games where he didn’t score I knew he still had something about him; his movement, was clever.
“I remember sitting him down and telling him ‘think back when you were playing for White Ensign. Keep getting in the right areas because you’re instinct will take over’. And it did.
“I remember that conversation quite clearly and I told him that his instinct would get him there in the end. He was one of those players – just a natural finisher.”
Benson arrives at Kenilworth Road having fallen down the pecking order at the County Ground squad. Last season he played a bit part role in the Robins’ League 1 campaign and was loaned out to Portsmouth and Cheltenham.
And with the striker’s lack match action in mind Still admitted he won’t rush him back.
“Knowing Paul his fitness is good,” said Still. “But we’ll get a week’s work into him and see how it goes.
“We’ve got problems with Alex Wall and Jon Shaw, who needs a [hernia] operation, and I don’t want another striker injured.”