Heath hailed as ‘inspirational’ by Ward

HIS manager refers to him as ‘Matthew’, his team-mates call him ‘head on a stick’, but right now Colchester United defender Matt Heath won’t care what he’s called.

That’s because the towering 29-year-old is hitting the form of his U’s career just as he heads into the final few months of his three-year contract.

Heath has very much been the stand-in man for Colchester since his free transfer move from Leeds in 2008.

The Leicester-born defender has become known as the Mr Dependable figure who works hard in training every day, accepts his place on the bench or in the stands with little complaint, and who generally does a solid job whenever called upon.

Whether that alone would have been enough to earn him a fresh deal this summer is questionable. His case has certainly been strengthened now though by some excellent displays in the last three games – capped with a supreme goalscoring performance against Leyton Orient on Tuesday night.

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“It’s great to be playing,” beamed Heath, who has been deputising in the absence of injured duo Magnus Okuonghae and Pat Baldwin.

“I’ve said before that we have a lot of experienced players at centre-back at this club and I accepted that it was my turn to sit it out and wait for a little while.

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“It has been quite difficult for me just playing a handful of games here and there, but I’ve never let it get me down. I’ve just tried to work hard and show a willingness in training so that the manager always knows I want to be in the team.

“To me it’s quite simple really – if you sulk, you’re not doing anyone any favours. I’ve seen it at previous clubs where players go off and sit down in a corner by themselves and that’s not helping anyone.

“I do like being at Colchester. Me and the wife are quite settled down here, we live in a nice quiet place out in the countryside and this is a nice friendly club.”

Endearingly nicknamed ‘head on a stick’ by his team mates for his preference to deal with the ball in the air, Heath scored a rare volleyed goal on Tuesday night to kick-start Colchester’s comeback from 2-0 down to beat Leyton Orient 3-2.

It was the 6ft 3in centre-back’s first goal since March 2009 when he scored for loan club Brighton and his first for Colchester since April 2008 when he netted against Gillingham.

“I’m really pleased with Matthew,” said U’s boss John Ward. “He’s an inspiration to others around him because he has always kept going.

“Every day at training he has a smile on his face and gives it everything he has got. He just loves being a footballer and that shows when he plays.

“It was great for him to get a goal and play a prominent part in the last few games. He’s one of the guys who has been waiting for his chance and the way he’s playing he’s going to take some dislodging.”

Colchester host League Two side Bradford City in the first round of the FA Cup tomorrow and, with Okuonghae ruled out yet again with an ankle injury, Heath is set to start a fourth successive game.

– For a two-page match preview, including an interview with U’s full-back Brian Wilson, see tomorrow’s EADT.

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