Connolly relishing facing big boys

COLCHESTER United's teenage centre-half, Matthew Connolly, is relishing the opportunity to take on the big boys in the Championship.The Arsenal loanee was up against two powerful strikers, in the shape of Andy Carroll and Patrick Agyemang, during Saturday's superb 3-0 win at Preston.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United's teenage centre-half, Matthew Connolly, is relishing the opportunity to take on the big boys in the Championship.

The Arsenal loanee was up against two powerful strikers, in the shape of Andy Carroll and Patrick Agyemang, during Saturday's superb 3-0 win at Preston.

Connolly delivered a man-of-the-match performance, alongside the imperious Pat Baldwin, in the heart of defence. It was the U's first clean-sheet of the campaign, and Connolly is hungry for more.


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“I've come to Colchester to play as many games as I can, and I want to play against all the best strikers in the Championship,” insisted Connolly.

“Of course I haven't had much of a look-in at Arsenal. It's difficult to break into the first team, so I need to get the experience under my belt with Colchester.

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“Preston had a couple of big strikers, which kept Pat and I on our toes. It ended up being a 3-0 victory, and a clean sheet, but it wasn't as easy as the scoreline might suggest.

“I thought we defended and attacked well as a team. It was also vital that we got the first goal (from Kevin Lisbie) just before half-time,” added Connolly.

The 19-year-old defender, who turns 20 next month, has only made a couple of appearances for Arsenal, both of them in the Carling Cup.

He did enjoy seven games on loan at League One side Bournemouth last term, but he is now looking to stamp his authority on the professional game during a season-long loan at Layer Road.

Connolly follows in the footsteps of other former Arsenal players like Graham Barrett and Liam Chilvers, who both moved to Colchester from the Gunners on loan deals. Chilvers went on to sign full-time for the U's, and is now at Preston, although he is currently unable to break into the 16-man squad at Deepdale. He watched Saturday's game from the main stand.

While there has been no shortage of praise for star man Teddy Sheringham, from all quarters, Connolly also chose to highlight the performance of another U's veteran, 39-year-old keeper Aidan Davison.

Still slightly hampered by a recent back injury, Davison made his first senior appearance since the 5-1 win over Hull City at the end of last November, due to Dean Gerken's one-match suspension.

Connolly continued: “Aidan (Davison) took a lot of the pressure off Pat (Baldwin) and I. He came for all the crosses. It was good to play in front of him.

“Pat is also terrific, and he's the best talker going. We have worked well together. Every defender looks to keep clean-sheets, and I thought we were very unlucky not to do that against Barnsley (2-2 draw), who scored both their goals from penalties.”

Manager Geraint Williams has made no secret of the fact that he has been trying to find a replacement for left-sided centre-half Wayne Brown, who moved to Hull for £450,000 just before the season started.

Brown and Baldwin were stalwarts at the heart of defence last year, but the early indications suggest that Connolly and Baldwin could be just as effective this season.

Connolly might be lacking in experience, but he looks the part already.

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