DAVID Connolly has urged Oxford United to do everything they can to claim automatic promotion this season, after finding out the hard way how agonising the play-offs can become.

The striker’s debut goal last Saturday against AFC Wimbledon secured a 2-1 victory which moved the U’s back into the all-important top three.

A 1-1 draw at Bury consolidated the position, but competition will be fierce and they are only just clear of the next four teams.

Connolly has won automatic promotion with Sunderland and Southampton in a successful career.

But the 36-year-old has also sampled the other side of the coin, losing the 2004 Championship play-off as West Ham went down to Crystal Palace.

The memory of that defeat still rankles and Connolly, who believes United’s squad is good enough to go up, is desperate to avoid the play-offs.

He said: “One thing you want to try and do is try and aim for that top three.

“You can’t make too much of a big deal out of it because if you ultimately fail then psychologically you have to prepare for the play-offs.

“I’ve lost a final with West Ham and it’s devastating.

“Ultimately, if you are going to go up you’d like to do it automatically.

“I’m sure we’ll be putting the pressure on by picking up points and going for it.”

Caretaker manager Mickey Lewis advised young striker Tyrone Marsh to study Connolly’s expertly-taken goal against the Dons.

The former Republic of Ireland international is happy to pass on the benefits of his experience.

He said: “I’m not one for shouting and telling people what to do.

“Hopefully you lead by example and obviously I’ll be there to lend a hand or just train as best I can.

“I’ll look after myself and offer any help I can to any of the younger lads.”

Connolly’s home shirt will be sponsored by the Yellow Army for the rest of the season.

The supporters’ group made the £144 donation to help cover the costs of his home shirt.