Belfast Telegraph

Smalling relishing big stage

Manchester United rookie Chris Smalling believes he is beginning to grow at Old Trafford.

The 21-year-old central defender, who learned his trade at non-league Maidstone, has been given a run of games in the absence of Rio Ferdinand with a calf injury. Smalling is again expected to partner Nemanja Vidic at Old Trafford against Marseille with a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League at stake after a 0-0 draw in the first leg in France.

He believes United will approach the match with optimism after getting back to winning ways on Saturday when Arsenal were defeated in the FA Cup. That victory came on the back of defeats by Liverpool and Chelsea. Smalling, set for his his seventh appearance in Europe's elite club competition, said: "My confidence is getting better with each game."

He added: "In the last couple of months I have played some big games against top opposition. Come nights like Tuesday I hope I can step in and keep going.

"It was a difficult week and we didn't get the rub of the green against Chelsea and Liverpool but progressing in the FA Cup means we are going into this match with a lot of confidence.

"The lads want to get out on that pitch. The fans get behind us at Old Trafford and we have a very good record."

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson claims Smalling is ahead of schedule.

"Chris is a young lad who has come to United and has played immediately. We bought him for the future but we are delighted with what he has achieved so far," said the Scot.

"He enjoys defending which is a great asset to have. So far his transition has been very easy for him. He's done very well."


From Belfast Telegraph