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First Team

Serial winner O’Neil on hand to help with play-off push


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

The Cherries squad make the trip to Brentford on Saturday with a narrow 1-0 lead to protect, and if the squad are searching for winning Championship play-off experience to help them they need look no further than senior first team coach Gary O’Neil.

During a near-two decade playing career as a midfielder the Cherries coach won promotion from the division four times and was a play-off winner as many as three times.

Having won the title with Portsmouth in 2003, nearly a decade later he began his impressive play-off run as he was in the line-up at Wembley for West Ham in their 2-1 win over Blackpool.

The midfielder started under the arch again two years later for QPR, and while O’Neil saw red after an hour the Hoops were still able to upset Derby thanks to a late Bobby Zamora strike.

In another 12 months O’Neil had the chance to complete a play-off hat-trick, this time achieved with Norwich as he appeared as a substitute in their 2-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Now a coach at Vitality Stadium, O’Neil is looking to help guide the Cherries to another play-off success, and will be looking to impart his knowledge on the squad as and when they need it.

Bournemouth travel to Brentford for their second leg of their semi-final on Saturday, the team that comes through set for a winner-takes-all match at Wembley with either Swansea or Barnsley seven days later.

Speaking to afcb.co.uk, O’Neil set out the pressure that comes in the end of season showdown: “It’s just two more football matches and they’re the same as all the others we’ve played – it’s just that everything feels magnified and there’s that feeling that everything that happens could have such a huge effect, as it obviously can.

“It’s a 46-game season crammed into two or three games, which is just crazy, but that’s the way it is.

“I got better at playing in them the more I experienced them. The first one I played in, especially the final, it was very easy to get caught up in how important it all was, how big the game is and what effect it has on the club, the fans and people at the club.

“When you’ve been at home and won 1-0 as we have this week and then have to go away to a very good Brentford side that fine lead feels like we aren’t anywhere near being done.

“Just one moment here or there could flip the whole thing and the whole group we have will be aware of that.

“The gaffer has experienced some huge games in his career as well and he’s been brilliant with the boys, especially after the game and everyone knows that there’s still and awful long way to go in this semi-final.

“We’re working very hard, straight away the day after the game we were back on it, to make sure we’re in the best shape possible for a tough game at Brentford on Saturday.

Head coach Jonathan Woodgate has spoken of the experience in his staff, Stephen Purches also having won the play-offs with the Cherries in 2003, with O’Neil talking about the role his experience can bring to the players.

He said: “I’ll offer advice to the lads if and when they come and ask me, if we get five minutes having a cup of tea.

“It’s not something where there are definite answers, everyone has to find their own way to perform in the big matches.

“After we lost that Barnsley game at home in the league we had a lot of games coming up that we had to win to even keep us in the play-off race. A lot of the boys have also played in the Premier League so they know exactly what it’s like to go out and have to perform.

“There is a magnifying glass on it and it does feel bigger but as you saw on Monday night, the lads dealt with it extremely well. They put in a very good performance, managed to stay calm and hopefully we can regroup, get rested and go again.

“You don’t get to this level as a professional footballer if you shrink under pressure. The lads have all been under pressure, be it a relegation battle, winning games to get into the play-offs or trying to get promoted with the huge matches the club had in 2015 when the club had to win.

“There’s no way that any of the boys are going to shrink under pressure, as a group it’s about whether you can get the mix right with how aggressive you are, taking the right risks.

“It all boils down to decision making, there’ll be a bit of luck involved, when you get the chances can you take them?

“There’s no sort of feeling of half the job being done or anything at the moment, it’s all to play for and we’re treating Brentford as a really dangerous side.

“A huge shift will be needed on Saturday because I’m sure they’re going to make it as difficult for us as they possibly can at their place.”

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