Win over Brighton shows ‘one pack’ mentality is back at Wolves under O’Neil

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Tommy Doyle strode towards the South Bank in triumph and engulfed Joao Gomes in a tight bear hug.

Two players who have spent the last few months fighting over one place in the Wolverhampton Wanderers team were united in joy.

Half an hour earlier the same South Bank had launched into a chorus of ‘Gary O’Neil’s Barmy Army’ that spread around all four sides of Molineux and built into a crescendo of noise to help drag Wolves over the winning line.

As Gomes and Doyle hoisted each other into the air, an injured Mario Lemina re-emerged from the dressing room to join in the celebrations and get himself lifted skywards by the playful Gomes. His goal was the difference between Wolves and Brighton which gives them a spot in the last eight of the FA Cup.

And then, of course, it led to the now inevitable sight of O’Neil’s players shoving him towards home fans for the raucously received triple fist-pump that has become a feature of every major Wolves win.

This was truly ‘One Pack’. The phrase that is plastered on signs around Molineux has become a hollow marketing phrase at times in recent years. Not anymore.

There is a togetherness and common purpose that has united management, players and supporters and is now just one very winnable quarter-final away from taking them all back to Wembley five years after Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were beaten by Watford at the semi-final stage.

It is a wave of good vibes and positive energy that has come to characterise O’Neil’s reign so far.

He has been hit by major injury setbacks in attack with Pedro Neto and Matheus Cunha suffering serious hamstring issues and Hwang Hee-chan limping off last night with a more minor problem with the same muscle.

But O’Neil and his players have responded with a defiance and bloody-mindedness that has given them a shot at Europe through two different routes — and when they have threatened to falter their supporters have dragged them through.

“The part of the fans in this win shouldn’t be underestimated,” said O’Neil.

“When the lads were tired at 70 minutes, the noise started ringing around the place as if the fans were not accepting that the lads were going start to lower their level or risk throwing this one away.

“It was like they said ‘no, we’re going to grab the lads here and push them over the line.

“And we could feel that, so it’s a great place for us at the moment.

“We love playing here. I’m sure they’ll be dreaming about the semi-final and I’ll be analysing Coventry to make sure we’re the best prepared we can be.”

If one set of games encapsulates the rediscovered spirit which had dissipated under former boss Bruno Lage and only returned sporadically under Julen Lopetegui, despite his successful rescue act, it is Wolves’ progress in the FA Cup in the face of repeated obstacles.

There was Gomes’s sending off in the third-round tie at Brentford, the extra-time spell in the replay, the hostile trip to local rivals West Bromwich Albion in round four and the problems of players running on empty against Brighton.


Doyle and Gomes of Wolverhampton Wanderers embrace after the final whistle (Jack Thomas – WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images)

Now, with the best possible draw from those available awaiting in the last eight, another Wembley semi-final is a real possibility. And then, who knows?

“When we set off to travel to Brentford in round three, I remember delivering the pre-match meeting before we left and saying ‘our aim at this moment is to win the FA Cup’,” said O’Neil.

“I know how far-fetched it sounds at that moment but with every game you win and every game you take seriously, you get a step closer and we are where we are.

“We’ve managed to reach the quarter-final, and we’ve had to give a lot to get here.

“We’ve played with 10 men for nearly 90 minutes, we’ve played 120 minutes at home to a Premier League team in the replay, we had to travel to our local rivals in a real hostile environment at a place we haven’t won for a long time.

“And now we’ve had to play a very good Premier League team two days after a Premier League game.

“So we’ve given a lot to get to the point we’ve got to. It’s not as if we’ve had it easy. And that’s just because the lads understand the importance of it.

“We’re a close group. We have big quality. If we can get enough players fit, we can cause teams problems.”

A dozen Premier League games remain with a chance of pushing for Europe and there is still the prospect of more magical memories in the FA Cup.

Bodies are tiring, fatigue is setting in and it will take a few more monumental efforts if O’Neil and Co are to turn a hugely enjoyable and encouraging season into a special one.

But ‘One Pack’ is back, and on last night’s evidence very little is beyond them.

(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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