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Hammers Gary O’Neil celebrated his first Premier League start of the season on Monday by providing the cross for West Ham’s equalising goal against Stoke City

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Hammers midfielder Gary O’Neil celebrated his first start in the Premier League in 18 months by setting up the equalising goal in the Monday night 1-1 draw with Stoke City at Upton Park, writes Dave Evans.

The 29-year-old suffered a career-threatening ankle injury in April 2011 and with nine months on the treatment table, followed by helping the Hammers to promotion from the Championship, he is finally back to where he was.

“It has taken me 18 months to get back to starting a Premier League game since my injury,” said the midfielder. “That was my first start on Monday, but you do need games.

“I found it a little bit tough with the 90 minutes, compared to coming on for half an hour when the adrenaline helps you through it.

“It has been a long time since I played 90 minutes too – it was probably the play-off semi-final, so a long time.”

O’Neil has had to wait for that chance, but he is philosophical about the limited opportunities he has had this season and would not think of pestering the manager about a regular starting spot.

“You have to be patient, especially nowadays because there are a lot of good players around, a lot of big squads,” explained the former Portsmouth and Middlesbrough man.

“It is not like it used to be when everyone starts and you have only got 13 players – it is not easy to get a start.

“But I haven’t caused a fuss, I just get on with it, with the gaffer and I get on well with all the staff here.

“I am really enjoying it and I was just pleased to get a start, albeit because there were a lot of injuries. I wouldn’t say I was an out-and-out right winger, but I played there against Stoke City.”

He did and he proved himself a useful one just after half time when his low cross was turned in by Joey O’Brien.

It was a tactic that manager Sam Allardyce had suggested.

“The gaffer said if we do get a chance to cross it, try and slide it in behind them rather than hanging it up,” said O’Neil.

“We hadn’t got down there too often, so first chance I had I managed to get in underneath and surprisingly saw Joey O’Brien on the end of it – I was really pleased for him.

“In the end it is a decent point when you go 1-0 down to them, especially when they make it as difficult as they do and it keeps our little unbeaten run going.”

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