Connolly convinced promotion is certainty, but Crawley Town can bide time

Mark Connolly. Crawley v Barnet. Picture by Phil Westlake SUS-160823-072514001
Mark Connolly. Crawley v Barnet. Picture by Phil Westlake SUS-160823-072514001

Mark Connolly is convinced that if they continue making small steps forwards, promotion back into League One is a certainty for Crawley Town.

The 25-year-old defender, however, is not in a rush for the play-off places this season and is looking more at the long-term picture.

Reds beat off plenty of competition from other clubs to bring the defender back at the start of the season when he penned a two-year contract.

The fans’ favourite has picked up where he left off at the Checkatrade Stadium, where he is just as well liked for his no-nonsense approach on the pitch as he is for his adhering nature off of it.

Connolly also speaks using his head and rather than reel off the cliched - we’re going for a play-off push - he voiced his ambitions to build slowly with the club needing ‘security’ first and foremost.

Just one game into the second half of the season, Reds sit 15th in League Two with 32 points from 24 games.

They are seven points off the play-off places and 11 clear of the bottom-two.

Connolly revealed: “When I signed I spoke to people at the club and knew I was not going to come in with money being thrown around the place and us get promoted straight away, I knew that.

“I spoke in pre-season all about getting the club secure and up the table. Right now, we are seven points outside of the play-offs, if at the end of the season we are in the play-off places then brilliant, everyone would obviously love that.

“At the moment, we are doing ever-so-well, taking small steps at a time and that’s what the club needs right now, security in the league and then look onwards and upwards from there rather than looking over our shoulders.

“At home we are a match for anyone and with an additional one or two in January, it will improve us even more and the club is definitely on the up.

“The little things like personnel around the club with the manager and Matt Gray, the way they deal with things is first class. Marc Lindsey, our fitness coach, is great and even everyone in the office; Kelly Derham and Bruce (Talbot) and Alex (Stedman) with the media side, every one brings something and it means it is better run than a League Two football club.

“When off the field things are good, sometimes it makes you feel so good that things are then even better on the pitch. Things have definitely improved since last time I was here and it does feel like a great club.

“Everyone has the aim to push forwards and get higher up the league as a club. As a club everyone is pulling together in the right direction. As long as that continues, the board will be in the right place and we will be successful.

“That’s the way to look at it, with promotion, it may not happen this year, but it will happen.”

The Irish centre-back believes he has grown as a player since his first two-year spell at the club under Richie Barker in 2012 where he made 80 appearances and scored three goals in League One.

He joined Scottish Premier League side Kilmarnock in 2014 and skippered the club during a two-year period, which was restricted by injury in 2016.

Connolly is pleased with his personal progress since his return, especially after a difficult last season and believes he has grown as a player in his time away.

He added: “It’s difficult to keep a settled 11 fit and playing together all the time. It does not happen in football, you get suspensions and injuries and it’s about how well you deal with that.

“We have done ok and when the manager has his so-called starting 11 we have done very well, especially at home. Against Yeovil we were good and won by two goals, but I was hoping it would be few more to make up for the 5-0 defeat down there. It has been good so far and long may it continue.

“For myself my main aim was to play as many games as I could this season and I feel like I have done that apart from the spell out with my blow to the throat and the concussion.

“I have felt good and solid after my injuries last year when I was out for a long time. I have had to put that in the back of my mind.

“Since last time I was here I am a lot more mature as a footballer. I understand the game a lot more and see myself as a solid seven out of ten each week rather than one week being good and one week being poor.

“It’s pleasing as I definitely just see myself being more consistent.

“I feel we have done ok and as long as we keep people playing well in the team we will do well.”

And all the while things are going well on a Saturday afternoon, Connolly and his family have slotted back into life in the town they know and love.

He enjoys the family feel around Reds and having his young daughter at the games, hinting they could be here for the long haul.

Connolly added: “To be honest, it’s been great. When we moved away the first time we were wary of where we were going.

“I ended by up in Scotland and it was different and we missed Crawley. There were a few things that came up when leaving Scotland and when I heard Crawley I knew I wanted to come back.

“It’s a place I knew well and have lots of friends, I know football is a funny game and things can change, but it’s a place we would like to buy somewhere.

“We are very happy here. All the clubs I have been at are very good, but sometimes they are a little bit more family orientated here. My missus comes with the wee one and are a lot more comfortable.

“The main thing is to win football games, but off the field, we are very happy.”