SPEAK to Barnsley striker Tom Bradshaw and you will instantly be drawn to his infectious and beguiling smile.
The Wales international is one of those reliable, no-hassle professionals who are the bedrock of any flourishing dressing room. A thoroughly modest and genuinely nice guy – son-in-law material as many managers might venture.
But there is also plainly more to him than meets the eye.
Bradshaw may be a salt-of-the-earth individual and all-round ‘good lad’, but he is plainly no soft touch either – possessing that inate single-minded goal-scoring desire that all successful forwards must carry.
Judging by recent evidence, he can increasingly look after himself, too.
While he may have endured some tough treatment at the hands of imposing Middlesbrough defenders Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson last weekend, no-one could accuse beefed-up Bradshaw of retreating into his shell and not going back for more.
Certainly, no-one can accuse him of being deficient and shy on the goal-scoring front either with seven goals to his name this term – and possibly an eighth if the ‘dubious goals panel’ so decide with some camera angles of Barnsley’s first goal against Boro last weekend indicating that Bradshaw got the decisive touch and not visiting striker and ex-Reds loanee Ashley Fletcher.
It all amounts to a positive start to the season for the 25-year-old, who is emerging as one of the genuine leaders in Barnsley’s much-publicised ‘young and hungry’ squad.
One of the hungriest, too, given his goals output this term. He also plans to punch above his weight in the physical stakes in assuming senior status and leading the line for the Reds following the departures of Marley Watkins and Sam Winnall earlier this year.
On his leadership role with the Reds, Bradshaw said: “It is quite bizarre in any team for someone who has just turned 25 to be probably in the top three oldest players in the team.
I feel like I am doing myself justice this year and if I can keep that going, then I am sure the fans won’t be disappointed.Barnsley’s Tom Bradshaw
“But I enjoy the responsibility and enjoy being one of the older ones in the team. I feel like I have got a fair bit of experience in this league now and can help out some of the younger lads who have not maybe got as much experience and that we can all pull through and keep performing on the pitch.
“I think we have a really good, hungry young squad. I think I saw a stat the other day about that we are the youngest team in the division.
“Even though we are young, there’s a lot of talent in the squad and I am sure the gaffer will utilise it.”
Specifically on the subject of his increased physicality and putting his body on the line for the team cause, the former Walsall man is also more than happy to continue to front up and assume responsibility.
Bradshaw, who started his career in the tough school of none-league football at Aberystwyth Town, added: “I think that (Saturday) was probably the most physical game I have played this season in terms of being thrown around. But when you are playing up top on your own, you are going to have those games occasionally where centre-backs are trying to bully you.
“You have got to be strong mentally as well as physically to keep getting back up when they throw you to the ground. You have to keep doing your job well.
“We do a lot of work with Nath (Nathan Winder – head of sports science) on our physical build and I feel like I have developed a lot since I have been at Barnsley in terms of not just muscular strength, but core strength as well.
“It makes a life easier in terms of holding the defenders off and being able to hold the ball and lay it off. It has definitely helped my goal and contributed to the fact that I am scoring more goals as well.”
The signs are that Bradshaw is certainly coming of age in the scoring stakes at Championship level.
The evidence of last season suggested a bedding in process at second-tier level following his move from Walsall for £650,000 in the summer of 2016, with Winnall and Watkins being the ones to reach double figures.
Being a striker, it will not be lost upon Bradshaw that his 2017-18 tally of seven goals is just one shy of his return in the whole of the last campaign – and with a fair wind, he should easily double his present haul.
There is a correlation, too. After scoring seven goals in his first season at League One level for Shrewsbury in 2013-14, Bradshaw found the net 20 times at the same level for Walsall in the following season, with evidence suggesting that he is an astute ‘thinker’ of a forward who can acclimatise to his surroundings and prosper if given the requisite time.
On the learning process at Championship level, Bradshaw said: “For me, it is all about learning the league and scoring goals in this division.
“Last season was a great learning curve for me learning from the likes of Sam Winnall, who was here as well and helped me a lot in terms of how the gaffer wants me to play and how to perform at this level.
“I feel like I am doing myself justice this year and if I can keep that going, then I am sure the fans won’t be disappointed.
“There are nowhere near as many mistakes in this league for strikers to pick off easy goals.
“You have got to be cuter with your movement and be more clinical with the chances you do get and be persistent as well.
“You might go a couple of games without even getting a chance, so you have to be ready and waiting for when that chance comes.
“It is just about being clinical. We have done a lot of work with Claps (assistant head coach Jamie Clapham) and the gaffer about our finishing and improving ratios in terms of shots on target and goals scored.
“I think that is helping everyone all around.
“Every striker I have aspired to be like tries to get goals in whatever way they can. Whether that is off their head, shin or back – it doesn’t really matter as long as it goes in and helps the team to kick on and try and win the game.
“I have always been hungry for goals and will try and claim any which one I can.”