By Tony Leighton
As Southend United push for a Sky Bet League 2 Play-Off place, 20-year-old goalkeeper Daniel Bentley is proving the old adage, 'if you're good enough, you're old enough.'
Despite being such a tender age for a keeper, Bentley has been an ever-present in Southend's Sky Bet League 2 promotion campaign this season.
He had previously made only nine league starts, though crucially in terms of his first-team opportunities three of those appearances came in the final four games of last season following the March appointment of Phil Brown as manager.
And Bentley has repaid Brown's faith this term, keeping 15 clean sheets to help the sixth in the table Shrimpers hold the division's joint-best defensive record.
The highly promising young keeper told football-league.co.uk: "To play the number of games I have this season is a huge deal for a goalkeeper of my age.
"I thank the manager for putting his faith in me, but I felt I gave a good account of myself when I got the chance last season and it's been great to keep my place this year when we've got an experienced keeper like Paul Smith in the squad.
"It's easy to throw the 'lack of experience' card at a young lad, but there's not a single shirt in our team that's a given and you have to perform week-in, week-out if you want to stay in the side."
Perform week-in, week out is exactly what Bentley has done. And despite the pressure mounting in a tightly fought race for the Play-Off places, the youngster is loving every minute of a run-in which now has just four games remaining.
Three of those four matches are against promotion rivals, starting at Rochdale on Saturday and concluding in clashes with Fleetwood Town and Burton Albion.
Southend supporter Bentley, who was born in nearby Basildon and has been with the club since he was 15, said: "The pressure is obviously cranked up at the business end of the season, but I thrive on it.
"If I want to eventually play at the highest level then I've got to prove I can handle pressure, and it's certainly high when you're going for the Play-Offs.
"But as the manager says, battling for promotion is good pressure. Scrapping to avoid relegation is nasty pressure, and I know which one I'd always prefer.
"We've got four games left to stay in the hunt for a Play-Off places, and we're looking at every one of them as a must-win.
"The good thing is that we're in the top seven and so we know that if we do win all four games then we're definitely in the Play-Offs - I'd far rather have our fate in our own hands than having to rely on other teams slipping up."
If the Blues finish the season in the top seven and then clinch promotion via the Play-Offs, it would put the club back in League 1 four seasons after relegation and two years after missing out in the bottom division's Play-Offs.
That could also, hopes Bentley, potentially set his team on the road to reclaiming the place they gained in the Championship in 2006 but lost after just one season.
"I've followed the club since I was a nipper," he said, "and it was great to see us in the Championship. I'd love to help get us back there - but first things first, and there's a lot of football to be played before we can even think about League 1."
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