Hammers’ O’Neil is in at the deep end
New West Ham signing Gary O’Neil thinks that the recent recruits will make all the difference in the battle for survival.
WHEN THE news came through that O’Neil had arrived at Upton Park, many thought that Avram Grant was on his bike and that Martin O’Neill had been installed.
Perhaps that is a little unfair on the former Portsmouth and Middlesbrough midfielder Gary O’Neil, who has jumped a division and shown that he can certainly hold his own in this West Ham side.
Sunday’s performance against Birmingham certainly wasn’t his best, but after three games in quick succession, it was not surprising that he was finding it tough.
“I thought maybe with the squad we’ve got, I might get eased in a little bit, but I’m pleased to be playing,” said the experienced 27-year-old who cost Boro �5million when they signed him from Pompey.
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“It’s been a tough week. My legs were a bit sore after a real battle at Blackpool on a really bad pitch. The pitch for this game wasn’t great either which didn’t help us, it made passing and receiving difficult.”
O’Neil has slotted in on the right side of midfield, but it is his versatility that is vital.
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“I’ll play anywhere across the four,” he explained. “I’m not a winger, but if the boss wants to play Victor Obinna on the other side, who’s more of an attacking player, and he wants me in there to cover the full back down my side and help the two lads in the middle, then I’m happy to play there.”
O’Neil is an old style, intelligent West Ham player. He is comfortable on the ball, and has excellent control and is not afraid to take people on.
Things did not go quite to plan on Sunday, though O’Neil thinks much of that is down to the new players still gelling.
“When there are new players coming in, it’s a bit of guesswork as to where they’re going to go,” said O’Neil. “I put a cross in early for Robbie Keane and I thought he was coming to the near post and it went straight to the goalkeeper as Robbie had gone to the far post.
“I asked him at half time if he tends to do that all the time, so there’s a bit of that going on.
“Sometimes when Lars goes round me I’m not sure if he’s going to keep going or if he is going to stop. But you find out what people do quite quickly and hopefully the new boys will settle in quickly.”
Perhaps that partly explains Sunday’s result and dismal performance. “It was a big game, we had a good win in the week and it would have been nice if we could have put back to back wins together,” said O’Neil.
“I thought we started okay and if we had come in one or two up I don’t think many would have argued. We got to the by-line down our right side quite a few times, but just couldn’t put it in the back of the net.”
With over 300 appearances to his name, O’Neil knows what he is talking about and he summed up the game perfectly.
“Birmingham didn’t cause us too many problems,” he said. “We knew they were going to be a threat from set-pieces. It takes just one delivery and that’s hard to stop.
“Then you’re one nil down and there’s half an hour to go, everyone tries to do a bit too much and play forward a bit too early when we could have been more patient.”
That summed up Sunday’s game pretty well. Patience was certainly something not on view as West Ham looked to level.
O’Neil though, believes that the team still have what it takes to get themselves out of trouble.
“There’s an awful lot of games to go,” he said. “The result last Wednesday was massively important because if we hadn’t won there, we’d really be in trouble now.
“We’re still there fighting, there’s 12 massive games and one on Saturday when we can hopefully make up for this one.
“We won’t have a problem picking ourselves up. The lads in the dressing room have been fantastic, they’re not too down and there’s definitely enough there to get us out of trouble.”
The mental side of the game is vital too and the likes of O’Neil and Keane will surely help them in the dressing room.
With West Ham clearly full of talent, that may be the vital factor they need.