Hammer O’Neil: ‘Our tempo was too hot to last 90 minutes’

West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil thinks the team ran out of steam against Manchester United last Saturday.

�West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil reckons the team simply ran out of steam after a storming first-half performance against Manchester United on Saturday.

The Hammers led 2-0 going in at the break after a brace of Mark Noble penalties, but they had still spent much of the opening 45 minutes chasing United around Upton Park as they battled to keep the Premier League leaders at bay.

“I think the tempo we played in the first half, closing them down, made it difficult for us after the break,” said the 27-year-old former Middlesbrough player, who played on the right hand side of West Ham’s five-man midfield on Saturday.

“I just feel we struggled after 60 minutes and they started to get more room, the first goal they got was early in the second half and we struggled from there.”

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O’Neil has now played eight games in claret and blue and he has added balance to the side as well as an ability to help out full back Lars Jacobsen on the right-hand side of defence.

It is a role that O’Neil is still learning. “It’s a new role for me, I’ve not played it often,” he admitted.

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“There’s a lot of work to do there. Last week we had Ekottu and Bale on the left and against United we had Giggs, I’m trying to stop the full backs and the supply.

“I think I have done okay, the results have been good which has been the main thing, but playing wide on the right as part of a five is not my best position.”

O’Neil seemed to work well in the first half, even setting up Thomas Hitzlsperger for a glorious chance thanks to an accurate, deep cross, but he and the rest of the team struggled after the break.

“They made some changes at half time which changed the game a bit,” he explained. “We were working hard in the first half, but we probably didn’t keep the ball well enough, we began to tire and a few holes opened up and they punished us.

“The first goal was a big turning point, it was a kick in the teeth and to take a two-goal lead and not get the points is hard to take. But they are a fantastic side, it was against a team well clear at the top of the Premier League – it was a tough afternoon, but we had a go.”

O’Neil’s arrival in January was perhaps the least heralded of the transfer window signings, but he has become a valuable member of the squad and he is convinced that the team is good enough to stay in the Premier League.

“I think we will stay up,” he insisted. “There are some big games, but we have given ourselves a good chance, hopefully we can get enough points.

“My first game was at Blackpool and since that game we have been on a really good run, so hopefully that will continue for the rest of the season.”

O’Neil was plucked from the Championship at Boro to rejoin Avram Grant who he worked with at Portsmouth, and he is determined that he will not drop down a division again.

“Hopefully it won’t happen,” he said. “When I signed here I looked at the squad and thought they had enough to stay up, so hopefully that will prove to be the case.”

We shall see.

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