West Ham star proves doctors wrong with sparkling Saturday-Tuesday performances
West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil was told that he would never be able to play on a Saturday and a Tuesday again after his crippling injury - he’s managed it and celebrated with a goal
It is only a matter of months ago that West Ham’s Gary O’Neil was in danger of never playing again, such was the severity of his ankle injury.
On Tuesday night at Peterborough, not only did the 28-year-old midfielder play his second game in three days, he also managed to notch his second goal in claret and blue with a vital second at London Road.
“I played nearly the full game again,” he said, after Tuesday’s 2-0 win. “They gave me a rest for 30 seconds at the end, that was nice of them!
“A year ago I was told that I might not play again, I was told I wouldn’t be able to do Saturday-Tuesday ever again, so to have done that is a massive step.”
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It is, but it’s more than that. When he first returned, back in February, after a 10-month hiatus, it was always likely to be a tricky process, as manager Sam Allardyce emphasised.
“Obviously we felt him in slowly because of the severity of the ankle injury he had,” confirmed the manager. “He needed a little bit of gentle encouragement in terms of him getting the confidence in the ankle, by getting a few minutes here and there.
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“Now by putting him in to produce the ability we know he has got, he has done really well in the last two games and arguably he is better inside rather than wide.
“He gets more involved in the game, gets more time on the ball, can play better passes and he looked a real threat, particularly in the second half.”
He did with a man-of-the-match display at Peterborough and with his pace and crispness of pass coming to the fore, O’Neil is almost like another January signing for West Ham.
It certainly wasn’t easy for West Ham at London Road as they came under pressure in the first half, something that O’Neil readily admitted.
“They went off at a hell of a pace and the first half was a lot quicker than I would have liked it,” smiled the midfield man.
“I think it told on them in the end and once we managed to get our noses in front, it was hard for them to get near us in the second half.”
With Reading to come to Upton Park on Saturday, O’Neil thinks that the team are coming into top form just at the right time.
“I think the away form has been fantastic,” he said. “Burnley was probably the best we have played apart from the two goals we conceded, but the chances that we created – I’ve never played in a game where there has been so many.”
O’Neil certainly hopes to be part of the team for Saturday’s showdown, but the prospect of three games in a week is a daunting one for him as you can imagine.
“I have a bit of work to do between now and then to be available,” he laughed. “But I am going to think about tomorrow first and how I am going to get out of bed in the morning! Then we will see about Saturday and trying to be involved again.”
The midfield man is certainly adding something to the team at the moment and he remains in positive mood – having been through what he has and come out the other side, why shouldn’t he?
“There was some talk of us slipping away into the play-offs, but there is none of that talk here,” he insisted. “We are still gunning for the title.
“We are only six points off Southampton and we haven’t done a lot wrong in the last four months, performance-wise.”