Express & Star

Gary O'Neil sends message to Wolves players after win over Sheffield United

Gary O’Neil has warned his Wolves players they must improve if they want to challenge for Europe this season.

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Despite moving up to eighth in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United, O’Neil cut a frustrated figure at his side’s second half display at Molineux.

Wolves struggled to impose themselves and consistently lost possession as they defended deep to see out the win.

“That second half performance gets us nowhere near Europe, we have to improve, definitely,” O’Neil said on his chances of qualifying for Europe this season.

“The lads have done incredibly well and they get massive respect and credit from me for the amount of games they’ve managed to win, the togetherness they’ve shown and the quality they’ve shown at times.

“And maybe I’m being slightly harsh on today because all Premier League games are tough to win. You have no divine right to win any Premier League game.

“But I felt today’s second half performance looks a long way from a team pushing for Europe.

“We didn’t expect to be pushing for Europe, but if other people want to speak about it that’s fine. I’ll get to work on trying to improve that and make it look a bit better.”

During that difficult second 45, Wolves failed to release their attacking talents and became desperate in their clearances.

Wolves’ struggles this season have come against teams that want to sit in and defend, and O’Neil says he is still searching for the answer to that problem.

“I spoke to the players about it briefly in the changing room – we really struggled to find the correct solutions,” the head coach added.

“We still had time on the ball but really struggled to find those solutions and I’ve said to the players a lot of that is on me. I need to find a way that’s easier for them to process and that the fans can connect to easier.

“When teams come after us the solutions are easier. They’re right in front of you and you don’t have to make a decision because it’s so fast. The fans connect with that and players find it easier.

“Whereas today, when you have to think, process things and hold the ball for a second, it creates a really uneasy feeling.

“I can’t wait to get to work straight away on figuring out how we make that easier for the players and fans to connect on.

“We weren’t very good in the second half, so we need to improve that.”

But for all his disappointment, O’Neil was still pleased with aspects of the game as Wolves took a big step forward in their European hunt.

“I’m really pleased with the win,” O’Neil said.

“We’re up to eighth in the Premier League, but I was really disappointed with the second half.

“There’s loads of different things you have to show to win a Premier League game and because of how uncomfortable we made the second half, we had to show grit, determination and dig in to defend a lot of long throws and direct play.

“The lads were excellent at sticking together and the fans stayed with them in difficult moments. You could feel the frustration in the stadium but they never turned on the players.

“They stayed with them, even when you could see them thinking ‘this is a bit hard considering we’re playing a team bottom of the league’.

“The lads managed to dig in and we got an important three points that moves us up the league.”