The Big Interview

Gary O'Neil is delighted to be back playing again following his recovery from an ankle injury that kept him out for seven-and-a-half months.

The No32  shared the disappointment of every West Ham United player and supporter at the club's FA Cup with Budweiser exit on Sunday, but was happy just to be involved in the Hammers' third-round tie at Sheffield Wednesday.

The midfielder underwent surgery before embarking on the long road to recovery. All the hard work was worthwhile, however, as O'Neil made his first-team comeback in the npower Championship fixture at Derby County on New Year's Eve before starting again at Hillsborough.

The 28-year-old spoke to the official website about his injury, his comeback, defeat at Sheffield Wednesday and his hopes for the remainder of the season.

First off, Gary, how is the ankle after Sunday's game at Hillsborough?

It was very sore immediately after the game, but that's fine, I don't mind it being sore because that is part of the process.

I just got a little bit tired towards the end. The ankle and the legs weren't too bad but it was a tough, physical game as you could see by the cut on my face, but it was a good test for the ankle and I'm pleased to have come through it. I am just disappointed with the result. I thought we did enough to win.

We missed more than enough chances to win any cup tie, didn't we?

I think we created enough. It was a difficult pitch, but I think we coped with that well. We dealt with their threat and we managed to carve out one or two really good chances with some decent passing which was good, but we didn't manage to take them.

Obviously we had a lot of key players missing - players who provide a lot of our goals - so there weren't that many goals in the side. It was a decent performance from a group of lads who haven't played much recently.

Gary O'Neil

Personally-speaking, are things going better than you expected at this stage of your comeback?

It is definitely going better than I expected. After my first reserve game at Upton Park, I only did 45 minutes and the ankle found it so hard and even after that I realised this was going to be very hard work.

Since then it has gone great. I was thrown in a little bit at Derby County because of the suspensions and stuff that we got, but that was probably the best way, I didn't have any time to think about it - no substitute appearances or anything.

It is great to be back. 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 adrenaline and stuff that takes around 50 per cent of it away. It actually feels worse in training than it does in a match.

What did you feel as you went in for your first crunching tackle since the injury?

It is something that you just need to get your head round. I've had a couple of kicks on it in training where it has come up bruised, but it survived, so it is probably not as fragile as we all think.

It has had nine months of decent healing and the physios have been great. We are still three months ahead of schedule. They said I wouldn't play for a year so I had written off this season mentally, really.

It was April when I did it and this season ends on 28 April this year, so I thought even if I get back it is only going to be for the last couple of games. I am just over the moon to be involved and hopefully I can pick up the pace a bit and the more players we have got available, the better.

Gary O'Neil

As an experienced player, do you feel you now have an important role to play in trying to help the club to gain promotion?

Yeah, I think it is great for the squad that we get as many lads fit as we can. Only 16 get changed on a Saturday, but as we saw the other day, if three or four get injured or suspended you need to be ready.

I will just keep plugging away. The ankle felt better on Sunday than it did against Derby, so hopefully it will continue on that trend of improving.

What has the manager Sam Allardyce said to you?

Not a lot actually regarding the ankle. His job is to get results, so when he puts me out there I am just seen as another player in his side who 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 and get on with it.

It is nice not to be known as the injured player anymore, I am just a player. It is nice to be back, but it is just a shame it has been for two defeats so far. Hopefully we can get a win soon.

Was being knocked out of the FA Cup with Budweiser a blessing in disguise?

I don't think so. I reckon a few teams in and around us in the Championship might think that West Ham have had a result because we are out, but we wanted to get through.

We fancied our chances. Even if we got a 0-0 and took them back to Upton Park, on a slightly better surface, we could have moved the ball a bit quicker and beaten them at home.

We are disappointed because it would have been nice to have a cup run, but everyone knows if we go up at the end of the season, then nobody is going to remember the 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday.