O'Neil | 'It’s another big game for the supporters'

Although Gary O’Neil believes the Wolves players have already achieved a lot this season, the head coach is determined for the team to not let up and finish the season as strongly as possible.

A West Midlands derby awaits O’Neil this weekend as the Old Gold head to Villa Park, but despite injuries set to keep Craig Dawson, Jean-Ricner Bellegarde, Hee Chan Hwang and Pedro Neto out of action, the return of Matheus Cunha will be a big boost to a group that will be hoping to bounce back from their FA Cup disappointment and keep their European hopes alive.

On injuries to Dawson, Bellegarde, Hwang and Neto

“[Dawson and Bellegarde] are not back with the group yet. Their injuries are not clear ones where you have clear time frames, so it sort of depends how they progress. Craig’s doing better so it’s hoped he’ll be back with the group next week for training, and Jean, we’re just waiting for the knee to settle before we can push him on. It’s not great news on Jean because we thought it would settle quicker than it has, but it’s taken a little bit longer.

“Channy’s on the grass and he’s working hard on his own. His hamstring is feeling good, he’s feeling good, so we’re just trying to get him through all the tests and all the hurdles that he needs to pass to allow him to be safe to come back in. He’s not too far away and hopeful he can shave a bit off three weeks from now.

“I think Pedro will be back fit around the end of the season, maybe a couple of weeks before, maybe the last game, it will be around then, and then it will be a decision to make. He has a big summer as well with the Euros, that I know he’s keen to get back for, so we’re just keen to get him back as soon as possible.

“We won’t let the fixture list or schedule dictate when he’s back, he’ll be back when he’s back. We’re disappointed for him because he worked hard to get back from the last one, but he’ll be fine, I know he’s working hard again to get back as soon as possible.”

On preparing for a derby at Villa Park

“For myself and the players it just increases your excitement for the fixture. We’ve had some fantastic ones this year, and I’m really looking forward to another one, taking the lads into one that’s going to be load and a testing atmosphere, and see what we can do to maybe quieten it and have our own way against it.

“It’s another big game for the supporters which we like, we’ve been able to give them some good ones so far this year and the lads have worked really hard since they’re returned from all over the place to get down, focused and ready to face Aston Villa.

“I think I’ve got a good idea of what Villa will look like, definitely shape-wise and probably personnel-wise, there’s obviously a couple of question marks still in there, but whoever they play, they’re an incredibly talented team.

“Of course, they’ve got a couple missing, but they’ll be a really tough test that the lads are looking forward to. They have a good understanding of what’s needed to get us through the game, and an opportunity to put another memorable result on the board.”

On trying to stop Ollie Watkins

“He makes up a really good number nine in the Premier League, especially playing in a good team with a good understanding. He’s done very well and it’s really good to be able to make the steps up that he has to become a really accomplished Premier League striker, so he will be a big test for us tomorrow.

“He’s one of the best number nines in the league, as the numbers show, and we did fairly well in the home game, and we tried some bits to keep him as quiet as possible, but I’m sure at Villa Park it will be even more difficult.”

On keeping European dreams alive

“The higher we can finish, of course would be better. Europe was never a target, for obvious reasons, with what the club was going through in the summer. But because we have managed to be so close to it, I understand that we answer the questions about it.

“We want to win seven of the last 10 which would mean that we’re there, and we have to discuss it, we understand the challenges attached to it, and it’s easy to come out with egg on your face if you don’t get what you like, but that’s the position we’ve put ourselves in with really hard work.

“It would be an unbelievable achievement for the group to manage to keep pushing and get over the line, and to finish in Europe would be an incredible achievement for them, so let’s see. Every position you finish higher helps with the financial position, so the higher we finish the better.

“We’re already going to finish a lot higher above what the club budgeted for this year, with expectation of us being closer to the bottom and the profits we made last year, so the higher we can finish from the bottom, the more we can look to improve in the summer.”

On plans for the summer

“We’re discuss all things around my future and the players’ futures in the summer. All of us at the club understand the importance of the next few weeks and losing in the FA Cup was a tough blow for everybody, but we’re ninth in the league, we’ve got 41 points and we’ve got 10 games left for us to really push and see what we can get out of this season. That’s our only focus.

“Me and Matt will soon start to have a few discussions around what next season needs to look like, and there will be loads of things involved in that. But the focus remains purely on how close can we get to nine points this week as possible. Can we keep pushing up the league? Can we get the injured lads back?

“We only have 19 senior players out of a possible 25 you can name, which is the smallest in the league and five of those are injured, that leaves you with 14, and three of those are goalies, so that leaves you with 11, plus Hugo who doesn’t have to be on it, so we have 12 fit senior outfield players going into a three-game Premier League week, so the lads deserve massive credit. It’s a massive achievement what they’ve done so far. It’s been an unbelievable effort from everybody to get us to where we are, but the challenge now is can we keep going?”