Many have promised much only to fall short, but the liltingly powerful partnership of Andre Gray and Paul Benson finally feels like the real thing.
Andre Gray puts bums on seats. He’s the player whose first touch in an attack makes conversations from the Kenny End to J Block stop in their tracks. With a drop of his shoulder 6 thousand individual darting glances are transformed into a synchronised sea of dilated pupils, focussed as one on the marauding movement of the font man.
Gray spends his Saturdays’ devastating tall men from provincial towns who stand motionless, confused; powerless to stop him. They weren’t ready for Andre Gray. They can barely even see him.
Benson came to Town, a rare thing at this level: a signing that some people had already heard of. He’d caught the eye in his previous life as a Football League player, but at 34 you can never be sure of the legs holding out, or the desire. But as we increasingly learn, trusting John Still’s judgement won’t steer you far wrong.
Benson looks a League player. He’s tall but elegant and intelligent in his movement and despite his Paul Buckle tan he has a poise and balance that don’t often come in a package with a graceful aerial presence and the ability to hold the ball up and bring others into the game. A Teddy Sheringham-esque aura emanates from balls hitting his feet or his chest. Whether you’re on the pitch or trying to un-wedge your knee from the seat in front of you in the stand, you know he’s going to make the right choice.
The whole squad looks strong at the moment, not just in their number and collective skill, but each looks strong individually, mentally, frighteningly so in patches against Gateshead and Gray and Benson typify this up top.
It was frustrating to see Andre in and out of the side early on in the season, but he has responded in exactly the right way to that little knock-back. He’s a young player who, you could be in danger of concluding, is capable of winning games on his own at times, especially when he presses high up the pitch and back fours of fragile form start to look terrified of receiving the ball, doubting their ability: “Don’t knock it back to me, I’m only a centre half!” they tremble.
But with Benson alongside him Gray looks more settled. To say he’s matured would be patronising but he definitely seems happier, more assured and a much better player. At 22, he retains the fire in his belly and the explosive power of youth, but these days he gets less frustrated and the result has been goals, and lots of them.
There are players whose fortunes, be it their health, their form, their contractual status (sometimes even their mood) can come to personify a season, and this year these are them.
At the moment Gray and Benson are really hitting it off. They are in the first throes of what we hope will become a beautiful long-term relationship, and happier for them both we could not be.