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20 May 2015

Canaries midfielder shares his Wembley experiences

Ahead of Monday’s Sky Bet Championship play-off final against Middlesbrough (3pm), discussed five key points with Norwich City midfielder Gary O’Neil.

The 32-year-old is aiming for his third promotion in four seasons via the showpiece occasion, having previously enjoyed success with West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers.

In 2012, O’Neil started in the Hammers side which edged past Blackpool with a 2-1 victory at England’s national stadium.

Last season, the midfielder made the ultimate sacrifice when his tackle just before the hour-mark prevented Derby County striker Johnny Russell from going through on goal.

He was dismissed for the challenge, but Bobby Zamora’s strike in the final minute of normal time proved enough to secure an invaluable 1-0 win for Harry Redknapp’s team.

O’Neil on preparing for Wembley...

“The lads have been involved in big games before so we’ll make sure we’re ready and fully prepared. Once you’ve been involved in Premier League matches, this isn’t massively different.

"Obviously it’s a lot more intense on the day with the whole season riding on it. It’s important you don’t get caught up in how much it means because it can definitely affect your performance.

"I think I prepared better for the second one, definitely, having already experienced the first one. I’ll try to pass that on to a few of the boys.

"We haven’t discussed this one yet. We’ll be preparing later in the week for Middlesbrough, and I’m sure the gaffer will have a plan as he always does."

O’Neil on Wembley successes…

“I’ve never lost when I’ve played there, and I imagine it’s not great to go home as a loser. Hopefully I won’t find out.

“With West Ham we went there as favourites and just managed to get over the line. Last year we were probably just about the underdogs with Derby going well, and we knew how the game was going to go.

“We went 4-4-2, and they had an extra man in midfield, so they were going to dominate possession. With two strikers on the pitch, we hoped we’d get a chance.”

O’Neil on ‘side before self’…

“There was a lot made of it at the time, but it was just a tackle I felt I needed to make. It resulted in a red card, so hopefully there will be nothing like that this year.

“The first 60 minutes had gone how we’d expected, and then we were fortunate enough to come through once we’d gone down to ten men.”

O’Neil on facing his former team…

“They’ve had a good season, and are a good side who are strong defensively. They don’t score many goals but have beaten us twice this year, so hopefully it’s our turn.

“There’s no extra motivation needed because the hard work of a whole season is riding on 90 minutes. We all want to be in the Premier League.

“They’ll have the exact same aims as us. Hopefully we can come out on top.”

O’Neil on the Yellow Army…

“It’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere because it’s a great day for the fans.

“There will be an intense feel to it, but the lads will be fine. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got 90 minutes to get to where we want to be.”

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