Tom is a secret striker

Colchester United teenager Tom Bender undergoes a transformation when he pulls on a Wales shirt.

The highly-rated 17-year-old has always been known to U’s fans as a defender capable of operating at either left-back or centre-back.

However, it transpires that when representing Wales at junior international level this summer he has been pulling on the No.7 shirt, donning the captain’s armband and playing as a striker.

“Up until I was about 14 or 15 I always played up front for my school and for my Sunday League side Buckhurst Hill,” revealed Bender, who qualifies to play for Wales through his grandmother.

“It was only on my first trial at Colchester that I became a defender as the coaches took a look at me and put me straight at the back.”

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Bender showed he still knows where the back of the net is last month when scoring for the Welsh Under-19s against Norway at a Four Nations friendly tournament in Sweden.

And the revelation could well play into U’s boss John Ward’s hands as he heads into the new campaign very much light in the striker department.

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Following the departures of Clive Platt, Kevin Lisbie, Scott Vernon and Joel Thomas from the club this summer, Colchester head into Saturday’s League One opener at Exeter with just out-and-out strikers on their books in the form of Kayode Odejayi and Steven Gillespie.

Ward is currently working hard to bring in reinforcements, but with no fresh faces imminent ahead of the big kick-off could Bender do a temporary job if called upon?

“I’m not sure,” laughed the modest teenager, who became the second-youngest player ever to represent Colchester in September last year when he was introduced late on in the 2-0 home win over Hartlepool United.

“Defence has to be my strongest position now and that’s what I’m focused on.

“It was great getting my first taste of first team football last season and then getting my senior contract, but now I want to continue to progress.

“I’ve worked hard in the off season and I’ve been working hard in pre-season, so hopefully this season I can push on.

“I’m just very grateful for the chance to be a professional footballer, it’s every boys’ dream and now I’m living it.”

In the meantime, Bender’s impressive international performances this summer means he has already been put on stand-by for Wales’ Under-21s for their up-and-coming friendly in Malta on August 10.

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