Aaron Connolly targets first team as brace gets Brighton youngsters off to flying start

Aaron Connolly scored twice for the under-23s against Wolves (Paul Hazlewood)
Aaron Connolly scored twice for the under-23s against Wolves (Paul Hazlewood)

Striker Aaron Connolly made the difference for Brighton under-23s against newly-promoted Wolverhampton last night after he scored a brace at The People’s Pension Stadium and continues to push for a place in the first team.

The first game of the Premier League Two season saw Simon Rusk’s team start with a 2-0 victory as he lined-up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Connolly spearheading the attack.

Manager Rusk said, “The challenge for Aaron is to take his goal-scoring form at this level of football to the next step. Like all young players, he has to wait and see what happens, maintain his attitude and keep working hard.”

Brighton kicked off last night attacking right to left against a Wolves team who had won promotion through a memorable 3-2 victory against Manchester United under-23s last season.

Rusk’s side were frustrated in the first half which saw few opportunities fall their way. A half chance came to Connolly when he nearly got on the end of a ball over the top but was muscled out of it by Wolves’ Dion Sanderson.

Wolves sat deep in a 3-5-2 formation and allowed Brighton to have the ball and pressed them in phases, Brighton defenders were caught out a few times just inside their own half which saw Wolves almost break through on goal if it wasn’t for some tactical fouls to stop them in their tracks.

“We need to be patient,” Rusk said to his players at halftime. “We can be a little bit more accurate and creative in the last third of the pitch with our offensive play but it is important we are playing against a very effective team who want to counter attack and break on us and we need to nullify that threat, stay patient and have the belief we will create a chance.”

The second half was much more open, Brighton had the bit between their teeth with players like Anders Dreyer and Connolly making some great runs to stretch the Wolves defence and get in behind.

Chances were falling to both teams and saw great saves from Brighton keeper Thomas McGill to keep them in it early on in the second half.

Brighton finally drew blood from the Wolves’ defensive pack on 76 minutes after a shot was blocked and fell nicely to Connolly in the six yard box who rifled the ball into the top right corner.

Two minutes later Brighton pounced again, a lofted through ball from Steven Alzate over the top of Wolves’ defence saw Connolly’s first time lob - from 18 yards out - over the onrushing Wolves keeper, Andreas Sondergaard and bounce into the net.

Speaking to the club’s website, Connolly said, “I want to play in the Premier League, and I want to impress the new gaffer (Graham Potter). I want to break into the first team here with Brighton and with the Republic of Ireland. You have to aim high and I hope I get the chance at both levels soon.

“With Ireland’s under-21s we played against the senior team before the Toulon tournament, and you can see the standard; where you need to be at to make it into the senior squad. Our under-21s manager is going to be the senior manager next year, so I hope I can have a good season for club and country.

“I didn’t make the squad last week for the Watford game. I expected that, and I have to be patient. I will keep working hard in the under-23s and I hope I get my chance. Neal [Maupay] and Florin [Andone] scored at the weekend, and you know Glenn [Murray] is going to score goals.

“To score a couple of goals and win 2-0 is a good start to the season. I had only played 45 minutes, but it was good to play 90 minutes after a little injury. It was a good win and happy to get two goals.”

Rusk added, “It was never going to be a straight forward win and the game was always going to cause us problems both when we had the ball and when we didn’t have the ball but I think in the end it was very professional from the players and there’s lots to take from that.”