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How long can Southend United keep Daniel Bentley's form a secret?
SOUTHEND United continued their charge up the League Two table with a convincing and commanding 3-0 win against promotion rivals Chesterfield in another entertaining encounter at Roots Hall on Saturday.
Blues brushed the Spireites aside with a determined display which, for around 70 minutes, was up there with their very best of the season so far.
But, in the closing stages of the clash, Chesterfield also showed their quality and that enabled Shrimpers shot-stopper Daniel Bentley to take centre stage with some truly stunning saves.
The young custodian did well to deny Marc Richards from the penalty spot before he somehow tipped a dipping effort from substitute Dan Gardner over the crossbar in breathtaking fashion.
Another fine stop then stopped Gary Roberts scoring right at the death and secured Bentley his 11th clean sheet of the season and means only Oxford United have conceded fewer goals in League Two this term.
Bentley’s form has played a huge part in the impressive defensive record and so good was his display at the weekend that the biggest fear could well be just how long the Shrimpers can hold on to someone with such tremendous talent.
At just 20 years of age, Bentley is incredibly young for a goalkeeper and must surely now be attracting interest from teams at a higher level.
Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Hull City could well see scouts flocking to the game to see how the Wickford based keeper deals with defending up against a Premier League side.
Recognising Bentley’s talent and handing him an extended run in the starting line-up has been one of Phil Brown’s best decisions since coming to the club last March.
Up until then, previous Blues boss Paul Sturrock had preferred to play the more experienced Paul Smith between the sticks and that stance is believed to have frustrated the Roots Hall hierarchy who wanted Bentley to be given the opportunity to flourish.
He has certainly done that this term and so too has midfielder Ryan Leonard who is simply unrecognisable from the player who impressed only in glimpses during his first two seasons with the Shrimpers.
Leonard had previously drifted in and out of the team and had struggled to stay fit playing on the right hand of the midfield.
But, since switching to a more central position, the youngster has been revitalised and can now definitely be considered as one of Blues’ most important and influential players.
The midfielder, who has captained the team in their last two games, is starting to display more speed, strength and confidence on a consistent basis and has scored four goals in his last four games.
Joining him on the score-sheet at the weekend was Kevan Hurst, another player currently enjoying the best season of his entire career.
The winger’s strike – which opened the scoring against his home-town club on Saturday - made it double figures for the season and his creative qualities are another reason why the Shrimpers have such a strong chance of success this term.
Right now, you sense that complacency could well be Blues’ biggest threat, along with any injuries or suspensions that might come their way.
With that in mind, new boy Luke O’Neill having to come off with a thigh problem before half-time was the only real downer during Saturday’s clash, especially as Blues’ first choice right-back John White still remains on the sidelines with a shoulder problem.
That could well leave the Shrimpers short in that role but Adam Thompson looked solid enough filling in after coming off the bench.
And the centre-back may well have to continue in his less preferred position to help Blues continue their run of good results and their push for promotion and, this coming weekend, an FA Cup upset as well.