Bristol Rovers defender Connor Taylor has been selected as the EFL’s Young Player of the Month for October.
The 20-year-old, on loan from Stoke City, featured in six matches during the month, helping Rovers keep two clean sheets against Carlisle United and Harrogate Town.
His performance at high-flying Harrogate was a particular standout, winning 13 aerial duels in a man-of-the-match display that also saw him named in the Sky Bet League Two Team of the Week, powered by WhoScored ratings.
“It comes as a nice surprise,” said Taylor. “It’s not something you think about when you’re playing, but when I found out I’d won the award, I was very proud.
“Some of the names that have won it in the past have gone on to have very good careers, so hopefully I can follow in their footsteps.
“League Two is very physical and aerial duels are one of the biggest parts of the game because a lot of teams play very direct. I’m still learning to be more dominant, but it’s been positive so far. Especially against Harrogate, being up against two free-scoring strikers, I thought I dealt with them well.”
Prior to this season, the promising centre-back had only appeared once in the EFL, making his senior bow for Stoke against Coventry City in April.
Taylor is benefitting from minutes on the pitch, as well as learning under the tutelage of Manager Joey Barton, who played a part in developing current Stoke defender Harry Souttar during his time at Fleetwood Town.
He continued: “Ever since I came to the Club, I couldn’t have asked for any more from the gaffer. He’s been brilliant. I speak to him regularly and he always wants to improve me and the rest of the lads.
“He’s teaching me about the fine margins. Maybe aspects that you wouldn’t normally notice. For example, in aerial duels, concentrating on the striker and not just the ball because you want to keep an eye on their body position and make sure they don’t nudge you off balance.
“You can see the benefits that Harry had by going out on loan with the coaching staff who are here now. He’s flying now in the Stoke first team, so if I can follow his footsteps, it’ll be fantastic for me.
“The gaffer just gives me confidence. I can go out and play every week with freedom knowing the Manager trusts me, so hopefully I can keep repaying his faith.”
Taylor grew up as a fan of the Potters and regularly attended home games, cheering on current team-mate Glenn Whelan, who has now become a mentor to the talented youngster, alongside several other experienced players in the squad.
“We’ve got a good mix of youth and experience here at Bristol Rovers,” Taylor added. “The experienced players give you little tips all the time and they’re approachable if you ever need any advice.
“I was a season ticket holder at Stoke, so I used to watch them week in and week out. I was there at Wembley for the FA Cup Semi-Final and Final. Glenn was playing in them games, so to be here with him now is a brilliant experience for me.
“I speak to him about his career and you can only aspire to have a career like his. He’s played nearly 100 international games, made 300 appearances in the Premier League and over 600 in his career in total. If I can even achieve half of that, I’d probably take it.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, Taylor was playing youth football for non-league Stafford Rangers, planning for a future in the USA via a soccer scholarship.
But after representing England Schoolboys and stepping up to the first-team setup at Stafford, he attracted the attention of Stoke and is now on course for a long future in the professional game.
“It’s been a bit of a rocky road with highs and lows and there will be plenty more in the future I’m sure, but I’m privileged to be in the position I am and hopefully I can kick on,” he admitted.
“Individually, my aim is to play as many games as I can because you can only learn so much on the training pitch. Playing games, you come up against different types of strikers and different systems, so I just want to learn as much as I can.
“Every defender wants to keep clean sheets and it gives you the best chance of winning games, as you only need to score one goal. As a team, we’ve got to build on those clean sheets because a good defence wins championships. We’re starting to show signs of progression, so hopefully we can push on now and string some good results together.”