Bennett promises he will keep improving after stellar first year at Barrow AFC
PREDATORY poacher Richie Bennett believes he will only improve next year after a remarkable first National League season for Barrow AFC.
Bennett became AFC's top-scorer this season when he netted his 22nd goal of the campaign in the 3-1 win over North Ferriby United on Easter Monday.
That tally took him ahead of Byron Harrison – who had missed nearly three months of the campaign with an ankle injury before his brief cameo against the Villagers – and to the top of the Barrow charts.
It is quite an impact for a player signed on from Northwich Victoria in the summer, rising three divisions and initially brought in by boss Paul Cox as a back-up striker.
After scoring two goals from the bench in August, Bennett has been a near-ever-present in the Bluebirds starting line-up, keeping Ross Hannah – who many expected to lead the front-line when he was brought in from Chester in the summer – on the bench as he developed a partnership with Harrison.
It has been a stellar year for the 26-year-old, who has a year remaining on his first contract at Holker Street, and one he admits he cannot quite believe has happened.
“Looking back on it, at the beginning of the year, if someone had said to me I would have 22 goals, have played in the FA Cup and beat Bristol, and would have started the majority of the games, I would have snatched their hand off,” said the 6ft 3ins front-man, who will lead the line once more at Braintree Town tomorrow (3pm kick-off).
“Especially being where we are in the league, pushing for the play-offs, going on the unbeaten run we did, I think anybody in the league would take that.
“On a personal level, I think I've achieved greatly. I think I've done very well. To get to 20 goals in my first season is a very good start and something I can build on.”
He added: “I think we've had a great season as a team. We've got through to the third round of the FA Cup, beat Bristol, went on that superb unbeaten run as well, and we pushed for the play-offs. I know we've mathematically still got a chance, and we will be thereabouts, so it is something to build on for next year.
“I think we've got a great mentality and a great squad.”
Bennett heads to Braintree tomorrow on a run of five goals in his last six games for AFC.
He has been a striker who has scored his goals in spurts during the season – his most recent run following a spell of five in seven matches in January and February – following Harrison's injury.
“I think it's the hardest bit, to get that first one,” he said. “Then it just comes naturally.”
But Bennett still sees many areas for improvement going into his second season – in what will most likely be the National League again, barring a string of improbable results over the next two weekends.
“You score in front of goal, but it's just about having the opportunity to go and do that,” he added. “I appreciate Paul Cox giving me the chance – he believed in me, and he showed that he believed in me from the start. I'm grateful to Paul Cox for giving that opportunity to go on and prove what I can do.
“Goals are something that all strikers are rated on, but with the team we have it's down to goals and the build-up play – how much you can affect the game in every aspect, not just with scoring goals. Some strikers are rated on holding the ball up and how effective you are at that.
“You do get rated on your goals, but I think I can improve. I still have a lot more to improve on and I think I can do that going into next year.
“I try not to worry about scoring the goals, because I know that I will score them if I'm in the right place. It's more about my hold-up play, winning my personal battles, winning the headers – that's what I need to concentrate more on. Everything else will follow that. I need to be a bit more ruthless at times, and not be afraid of anyone.
“As a team, I think sometimes we have gone out deeper than we should have, given teams too much respect, and let the game or the atmosphere get to us – like when you go to Tranmere or Lincoln and they have got great followings and crowds. You can't let it affect you as a team or personally. Maybe I need to get a bit more mentally strong.
“Also, I want to improve to my game in certain areas, but I think it's a good foundation that I've built this year. If I can bring all that to the game as well, then it can be a good year for Barrow next year.”