O'Neil | 'We’ll want to be as strong as we can be'

Gary O’Neil admits Wednesday’s FA Cup meeting with Brighton & Hove Albion will be a big test for his team, but the players are determined to achieve a place in the quarter-finals.

Having already overcome the threat of Brentford and West Bromwich Albion to reach the fifth round, the Old Gold have a chance to reach the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time since 2019, but with such a short space of time between Sunday’s Premier League victory over Sheffield United and Saturday’s top flight visit to Newcastle United, O’Neil has the difficult task of putting his small squad in the best position to get positive results in all three outings.

On quick turnaround from Sunday

“We’re still probably only half-way through the recovery time that we have between games, so still a day and a bit to go. I haven’t really selected the team yet and I’m going to see how some of the lads feel in the morning. But as shown in the recent FA Cup games, we’ll want to be as strong as we can be for the game and try to make sure we can progress into the next round.

“An FA Cup game, at Molineux, everyone is looking forwards to it and I’m sure once the lads are out there, the floodlights are on, then there will be no tired legs. Then it’s up to me and the team from that point to try to figure out who’s looking good, who can keep going, who can go all the way in this one and then go again against Newcastle on Saturday.

“We want to win every game and we need to give ourselves a real good chance in all of them. It’s going to be a tough finish to the season because a few of the lads are creaking a bit, there’s tired bodies and we have a small squad so some of the lads have to play lots of minutes in every game.

“We’re getting to a point of the season where it’s getting tough for some of them and we need to keep pushing and keep going all the way to the end of May. It will be a tough test, the next 12/13 games, but we need to keep the group together and see what we can achieve.”

On having one day less to prepare

“You always feel less tired when you’ve won, but the schedule isn’t great for us this week. Putting our game on the Sunday when we had an FA Cup game on the Wednesday wasn’t ideal because it means Brighton get an extra day on us and then going into Saturday’s game, Newcastle get an extra day’s recovery on us, and as we know, we have a small squad so it will be tested this week and we’ll need to be really switched on.

“In a short turnaround, a day makes a massive difference. Playing Saturday-Tuesday compared to Saturday-Wednesday is a big difference and lads will feel a hell of a lot better come Wednesday when they play Saturday compared to Sunday, especially as you get older, it makes a huge difference.

“But it doesn’t mean that it has to have a big difference on the game – we’ve played teams before when we’ve had less recovery and we’ve looked like the team that’s had more recovery, so it’s just another challenge for us.

“I’ve had really good conversations with the fitness staff and the medical team around how best to use everybody because in an ideal world, everyone is fine to go 90, 90, 90, but there will be situations that we’ll need to manage during the week to get the best out of the group.”

On learning from the weekend

“We reviewed the game like we always do and Brighton will be different. I watched the game back as I always do and the first half was very good in terms of breaking down a back five and creating chances with some of the movements that we used, with Mario higher and trying to get an extra man involved in the attack.

“It worked really well in the first half, but second half it wasn’t as much tactical as I thought, it was more uncharacteristic errors from us. A lot of the lads had off spells with the ball, some strange decisions, and it all got a bit nervy.

“But what I did like was the grit and the determination and the refusal to let it slip. We knew how big the result was going to be for us and Premier League games aren’t easy to win, so the fans and players all dug in and you felt that towards the end we were all desperate to get the game over the line and get three points.

“I’m more positive about the game that I was straight after, but there’s a lot of ways in which we need to improve and Brighton will be a very different test for us.”

On the threat the Seagulls pose

“When you face Brighton, they do ask you a lot of different questions. There are a few teams who are similar now, but Brighton are in the extreme for how well they build up plays, how well they use the goalkeeper in the build-up, so if you press them around the goal, they’ve always got a spare man who is capable of finding passes like an outfield player, the movement around the top line, they’re very good at exploiting spaces.

“They always ask you a question around how aggressive you want to be and how much of a risk you want to take in trying to get the ball back off them, because against some other teams you might be able to press with two or three and have a chance to get the ball back off them, but against Brighton, if you leave a spare man they are experts at finding it.

“We took quite a lot of risk at their place, had some really good regains, created a lot of chances on transition, but they’re very good at what they do because the way they’ve been coached is excellent. It will be a big test, but we’re in a good moment, we’re going well in the league and we’ve taken the FA Cup extremely seriously so far and we want to continue and see if we can win a game of football that will get us into the quarter-final.”

On taking confidence from last Brighton clash

“I thought we did well at their place in the league and had the better of the chances, just about. They’re obviously a very good side and have an excellent way of doing things which they know very well, and they cause teams problems.

“We need to be prepared for that and there won’t be too many surprises on how they go about what they do because they’re very consistent, but it’s very difficult to stop. We’ve done some work on it today with the boys on their understanding and hopefully we can implement what we want, because the boys have done well with that over the course of the season, but the last few weeks especially. Six wins in the last nine games.

“They’re in a good spot and looking forward to the challenge of trying to get into an FA Cup quarter-final.”

On Matheus Cunha’s recovery

“He’s doing well. He’s been back on the grass, he’s done some light jogging and stuff outside. His gym work is going really well and he’ll probably be having another scan in the next week or so to check the progress of the healing.

“But he’s really upbeat, pleased with how it’s going, but there’s still a lot of things that need to be done, ticked off and go his way if he’s going to be back as quickly as he’s aiming to be. But so far, it’s been so good, and everything is moving in the right direction.”