Aaron Connolly: I enjoyed my tussle at Liverpool with 'best defender in the world' Virgil van Dijk

Brighton and hove Albion striker Aaron Connolly enjoyed his tussle with Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk
Brighton and hove Albion striker Aaron Connolly enjoyed his tussle with Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk

Brighton and Hove Albion striker Aaron Connolly said the experience of playing against the 'world's best' defender Virgil van Dijk will make him a better player.

Connolly, 19, returned from a recent groin injury and played 76 minutes as a lone striker against experienced international and Champions League winning defenders van Dijk and Dejan Lovren.

This was just Connolly's sixth start in the Premier League and this time last season, the Irishman was playing under-23s football. The teenage striker, who has two Premier League goals to his name, was selected ahead of Albion's leading scorer Neal Maupay as the lone front runner at Anfield.

Brighton were two goals down after 24 minutes thanks to two headers from van Dijk but Connolly delivered an excellent performance for the team. His constant hounding and clever movement around van Dijk and Lovren relieved pressure for Brighton at critical moments.

He also tested Liverpool keeper Alisson with a fine turn and shot shortly after the break from Martin Montoya's cross.

A goal would have been just reward for Connolly who praised his opponent van Dijk after the match. "There was one point where I thought I was in and then and he (van Dijk) comes back and he's toed it back to his keeper and I'm just thinking, sometimes you have to appreciate you are playing against the best defender in the world.

"To play against someone like that at 19 can only help. Obviously he's a brilliant player so it was tough but I thought I did okay. We just need to focus on Arsenal now because the games are going to come quick now."

Despite the loss, Brighton - who are 15th in the Premier League table - played well for large chunks of the match and the young striker feels they learnt from previous away defeats at Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United.

"We have all looked at those matches (Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United ) and we realised we needed to be aggressive. I thought we did that well today. The gaffer's game plan worked but if you cancel out that first 15 minutes then we come away with a point if not three.

"At any level to concede two goals from set-pieces, you can't really do it. You can't give someone like that (Van Dijk) that much space, especially when he is that big. We need to learn from that. We can't concede two set-pieces and expect to get a result. But after that I thought we dominated the match."

Brighton forced their back into the match when Leandro Trossard's lob was handled outside the penalty area by Liverpool keeper Alisson. Lewis Dunk's quick free-kick caught out replacement stopper Adrian who was still lining up his wall.

Connolly said, "The red card didn't really change too much. I think we were on top anyway. Even with the red card it just emphasised how well were playing. It kind of stayed the same. We had them pinned in for 20 or 30 minutes. It is disappointing because we felt like we could have got something from the game.

"I was not expecting that (Dunk's freekick). I just saw Dunky running away celebrating, so I will have to watch it back again. Some really good quick thinking from him.

"It was a tough result to take because we could have got a point or even a win. But you can't concede two set pieces away at Liverpool and expect to win. The first 15 was disappointing but after that we were better and could have got a point and that just shows how well we have played.

"We created a few but it just didn't go our way really. It is disappointing because it was a good team performance and I think everyone else will agree with that. It is just about recovering now and being ready for Arsenal on Thursday."