Gary O’Neil pleased to repay faith shown in him by Norwich City boss Alex Neil
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
His time in Norfolk may have been rather understated so far but Gary O'Neil was thrilled to be given a chance to prove he can still perform at the top level with Norwich City.
The 32-year-old midfielder had not started a Premier League match since May 2013 – the last match of his two and a half years with West Ham, before joining QPR in the Championship for a season.
Yet it looked as if O'Neil had never been away when he started in the heart of City's midfield against Swansea, using all of his nous and experience to help guide the Canaries to a vital 1-0 triumph.
'I've only had Capital One Cup games, which the gaffer has said I've done well in. I've trained well, so I've earned my chance,' O'Neil said.
'He felt what I brought would be valuable.
'It doesn't mean I'm going to be a mainstay in the team by any stretch but just to come in and play a part and help the lads get a massive 1-0 is fine by me.'
The former Portsmouth and Middlesbrough schemer helped form a defensive shield alongside Alex Tettey in the centre of midfield, playing his part in City keeping a first clean sheet of the campaign.
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'We managed to give the back four a little bit more cover,' the Londoner continued.
'We have been open and attacked and tried to express ourselves all season and we managed to get me and Tetts in front of them and give them a little bit more protection and they were fantastic.
'It was tough when we had the ball because we did so much work without it and because we sat quite deep, most of your players are behind you, so it's very difficult to then find a pass and you end up having to stay on it a bit longer than you'd like.
'It's different to how we have played but we stuck in there and it's a massive three points.'
O'Neil reserved some praise for manager Alex Neil for that change in tactics, saying: 'Fair play to the gaffer for sticking his neck out and going that way.
'It's easy to stick to what you believe sometimes and he's gone against that and we've managed to grind out a very big 1-0.'
The former England Under-21 international had pressed his claims for league action in the recent Capital One Cup fourth round tie at Everton, when the Canaries were beaten in a penalty shoot-out after an entertaining 1-1 draw.
That night O'Neil had been appointed captain by Neil, as he had in the earlier rounds of the competition, and played the full 120 minutes to prove he still has the fitness.
That helped persuade City's boss to start his experienced midfielder against Swansea and O'Neil feels he still has the legs to compete at English football's top table.
'Obviously your athleticism drops as you get older but your experience and your know-how increases so obviously I'm relying on that more nowadays than my youthful legs,' he added. 'But I can still cover some ground, as the lads always laugh about, so I'm sure I'll have done a fair few miles out there.
'It continually moves on, I don't know about from the last time I was in the Premier League, with West Ham, but going back to when I first started, the game has moved on athletically.
'When I started it used to be old, fat blokes that were good at football, now you get athletes who are good at football as well, most of them are built like 100-metre or 200-metre sprinters, and they can play as well.
'So in the last 10-15 years it's moved on a lot but our squad has shown we're capable of competing and hopefully this will be a springboard for us.'