MASON Bennett has no intention of changing his game as he heads back to the north-east for the second weekend in a row aiming to swat aside more opponents at Hull City.
Bennett helped set up Millwall’s equaliser against Middlesbrough last Saturday after dumping Paddy McNair on his backside with a hand-off that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Twickenham.
Boro boss Chris Wilder said later he felt it was a forearm smash. Bennett didn’t pause to find out what Oliver Langford thought, and maybe the forward’s lack of doubt influenced the referee as he let play go on. Bennett left McNair behind to cross towards Benik Afobe before the ball ricocheted into the net off Sol Bamba.
Bennett makes no apologies for how he plays the game.
“If you see how quickly he went down, he got up just as quickly. You’re always going to get that in games but there is nothing malicious behind it,” Bennett said.
“We don’t want it to turn into a sport where you can’t touch people, you know what I mean?
“That’s just how I play. I’m rough and I’m ready. That’s how I’ve always played.
“I’ve played in that 10 position where I can get on that half-turn and drive at people and get in behind the defence.
“I’m always that type of player who tries to get the body in between the player and the ball and use my strength and my power.
“I always know through repetition in training when you get into that position to cut that ball back. I got my head up and saw Benik around the penalty spot. It was a bit fortunate how it went in but I felt like the movement before setting up the goal was nice.”
Bennett doesn’t just relish battling opponents. It’s a fierce competition every day in training to try to ensure he is picked in the team by Gary Rowett.
Sheyi Ojo arrived on loan from Liverpool in the summer and plays in Bennett’s positions, wide on the left or off the front.
Ojo was a regular in the team early in the season when Bennett was struggling with injuries.
Bennett is now back in the side and showed again at Boro the threat he possesses.
The former Derby forward says players help each other with advice, but it’s also “dogfight” to try to secure a place in the team.
“Regardless of which club [new signings] have come from, whether it’s an attacker or a defender coming in, each player in those positions will feel that they’ve got to improve and step up,” Bennett said.
“It’s a battle, it’s a dogfight. I’m up for it and I’m sure Sheyi is up for it, the likes of Jed [Wallace] and Benik also, there are a lot of forwards in this squad trying to be in the team.
“We’re here to help each other but we all want to be in the team and there are only so many players the manager can pick.
“The training standards are high and I’ll always be giving everything to the team whatever the situation is.
“I sit next to Benik in the changing room and he’s always being positive and trying to give me belief, he talks to me a lot and helps me out.
“I can get good advice from a player of his calibre. He’s been at some big teams and he’s done a lot in the Champ so of course I’m going to take advice from him.
“And from the other lads. I’ve always said Jed is a great mentor for me, I listen to what he has to say.
“I think we all help each other. It’s important we all take bits of advice from each other.”
Millwall have come from behind in seven games in the league this season to earn points.
When that’s pointed out to Bennett, rather than taking it as a compliment he stresses that they have to start games better.
That starts with forwards pressing but then the rest of the team squeezing the space to unsettle the opposition, particularly at The Den where supporters expect their team to play aggressively.
“Our job now is to get in front more and not have to chase to get back in the game, which the gaffer has alluded to a few times,” he said.
“That’s the next step for us, we need to take the game to the other team to try to get ahead.
“But we’ve always had that fighting spirit, that will never go. It’s about improving on the ball and pressing higher without the ball.
“For the first ten minutes, the last thing the visiting team wants is you in their faces. Otherwise they’ll settle into the game.
“Teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, Fulham have got good players who can dictate the game and once they’re comfortable it’s be a long, long game.
“The main thing for us at home is to get after things and make it tough for them, and try and play when we’ve got the ball.
“We set up traps, who starts the press, but it’s also up to the midfield or the back four or five to press with us. Otherwise teams will break us down and pop it around us.
“We can’t just go chasing willy-nilly on our own in ones or twos, we’ve got to really go as a team and get after them.”
Former England underage international Bennett has had injury setbacks this season, caused by impacts in games.
While that has been disappointing, he does point out that he has improved his strength to avoid muscle injuries.
“This is the frustrating thing. They’ve been all impact, I’m getting kicked here, I’m getting snapped there,” Bennett said.
“The main thing for me is, touch wood, I’ve got rid of my muscle injuries which I had in the earlier part of my career. I’ve strengthened those areas.
“These whacks and these kicks are going to happen in football. It has been a tough, frustrating start to the season, but hopefully I can kick on now.”
Image: Millwall FC