West Ham star confident of fitness for Cardiff clash

08:34 30 April 2012

Gary O

Gary O'Neil of West Ham

Rob Newell/TGSPHOTO c/o 27 Plaiters Way, Braintree, Essex, CM7 3LR - Editorial Use ONLY - FA Premier League and Football League

West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil took an almighty whack on his ankle against Hull City on Saturday, but says he is determined to be fit for the play-off opener in Wales

There were just a couple of minutes to go at Upton Park on Saturday when Gary O’Neil looked to get in a shot, only to feel a stabbing pain as a late and dangerous tackle crunched into the ankle that almost ended his football career.

There were a few heartstopping moments at that point. Physio Andy Rolls rushed on to the pitch while the game was still going on, much to the anger of referee Nigel Miller, but this was a player that he and so many staff at West Ham had taken nearly a year to nurture back to full fitness.

It looked bad, manager Sam Allardyce was raging on the sidelines, but for the player himself, he was almost taking it in his stride.

“I knew it wasn’t serious,” said the 28-year-old who was told he may never play again after suffering injury in April 2011, only to return to action at Derby County in last December.

“I wasn’t too pleased with the tackle in last minute of the last game of the season, I thought it was a little unnecessary. It was the same ankle and it’s a little bit sore, so I’ll try and get ready for Thursday.”

O’Neil seemed to be playing things down, perhaps desperate to add to his appearances this season by turning out against Cardiff this week, but there was no holding back from manager Sam Allardyce who was livid at Corry Evans’ challenge, which was not even penalised with a free kick.

“There’s a bad injury to Gary resulting from a very, very poor tackle on him that the referee chose to ignore,” said an incensed Allardyce.

“One, the referee never took the decision to punish the player and two, more importantly, Gary was left hobbling badly and looks a big, big dount for Thursday.

“Over the last 10 games or so, he’s been one of our most consistent and outstanding players following his long-term injury, unfortunately for us it is on the injured ankle that he’s got the bad tackle.”

O’Neil has certainly added some pace to the West Ham midfield as well as two goals, but he has just astonished to be playing.

“I am amazed,” said the midfielder. “One, I didn’t think the ankle would let me play as many as I have and two, I didn’t think I’d be selected for as many as I have been.

“I’m really pleased on a personal level that I’ve made 10 starts this season, that’s probably nine more than I expected.

“So that’s a real positive and if we can get to the Premier League then we’ll have less games and that’ll be good for my ankle!”

So what about that ankle? Is he still worried about it every time a challenge goes in?

“It’s not a worry for me for tackles or anything,” he insisted. “It’s more the constant grind of playing that takes its toll on it.

“It lets me know if I’ve done too much, but I’ve been playing Saturday/Tuesday most of the time so I am really pleased.”

So are the West Ham fans and they will be hoping that the ankle stands up for a Thursday/Monday date with Cardiff because he has already become a vital cog in the Hammers midfield.

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