Hammers O’Neil had written off the whole season

West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil has returned after nine months out through injury vowing to help the club achieve promotion

�For nine months, Gary O’Neil was known as the injured West Ham player. It was a title that didn’t explain the seriousness of his situation – the fact that he may never have played again.

But now, after two games back in claret and blue, he is delighted to just be called the West Ham player once again.

“The manager hasn’t said a lot to me regarding the ankle,” admitted O’Neil, who played for 78 minutes in Sunday’s 1-0 FA Cup defeat by Sheffield Wednesday. “His job is to get results, so when he puts me out there I am just seen as another player in his side that needs to do something for him.

“It is nice, because being with the physios for so long, all the emphasis is on how the ankle is, but when I am out there, no-one cares about that, it is a level playing field and you need to deal with it.”

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O’Neil is certainly dealing with it, though he admits that the ankle, so badly injured by a Nigel Reo-Coker challenge last April, is still far from being 100 per cent.

“It is very sore now,” he said after the game at Hillsborough. “That’s fine. I don’t mind it being sore because that is part of the process.

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“It was a tough, physical game and it was a good test for the ankle, so I am pleased to have come through it, though I am disappointed with the result, I thought we did enough to win.”

For O’Neil, every game he plays this season is considered a bonus after he was told that he would be missing for the entire campaign.

“They said I wouldn’t play for a year, so I had written off this season mentally really,” confessed the 28-year-old, who will be hoping to play against one of his former clubs at Portsmouth on Saturday.

“It was April when I did it and this season ends on April 28 this year, so I thought, even if I get back it is going to be the last couple of games. I am just over the moon to be involved and hopefully I can pick up the pace a bit.”

It has been a tough road for O’Neil, even when he finally returned to action for the development team.

“Things are definitely going better than I expected,” he said. “After my first development game I only did 45 minutes and the ankle found it so hard and after that I realised this was going to be very hard work.

“Since then it has done great. I was thrown in a little bit last week at Derby County because of the suspensions and stuff that we had, but that was probably the best way to do things.

“I didn’t have any time to think about it, no sub appearances or anything.”

With manager Sam Allardyce looking for new recruits this month, it is important to note that the return of O’Neil really is like having a new player in the ranks.

“It is great to be back,” he said. “The ankle is still sore after each game for a couple of days, but I can deal with that.

“The pain in the game is not as bad as it is in training because of the adrenalin that takes around 50 per cent of it away. It actually feels worse in training than it does in a match.”

O’Neil will certainly put up with that when you think about the alternative. For now he is just delighted to be able to play a part.

“It is nice not be known as the injured player anymore. I am just a player,” he smiled.

“It is nice to be back, but it is just a shame that it has been for two defeats so far.

“Hopefully we can get a win soon.”

O’Neil is already winning.

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