EPL

Gary O’Neil pays tribute to Mario Lemina after Wolves’ victory over Everton

By Sports Desk December 30, 2023

Gary O’Neil paid tribute to Mario Lemina after the midfielder missed Wolves’ impressive victory over Everton following the death of his father.

A third straight win for Wolves – for the first time in the Premier League for almost two years – saw them crush the Toffees 3-0.

The squad celebrated their goals – from Max Kilman, Matheus Cunha and Craig Dawson – with Lemina’s shirt with the midfielder having travelled to France to be with his family.

“We’re all enjoying today and then when you’re asked about Mario you get a sense of reality,” said O’Neil. “We’re here smiling and Mario is going through a really tough time. All our thoughts are with him.

“He was the first thing we spoke about afterwards. He is incredibly important to the team on the pitch and as a group around the place. There’s huge respect from the group for what he does. There’s no way we would be anywhere near 28 points without him.

“I’m 100 per cent serious when I say he can have as long as he needs. He has our full support and I hope him and his family can find some peace over the next few days.”

It condemned Everton to a third straight defeat and further highlighted Wolves’ rise under O’Neil. They were in the relegation zone at the end of 2022, but sit an impressive 11th a year later.

O’Neil added: “It was my favourite performance so far, it was as close to complete as we’ve had. Three games in six days is tough, but I’m delighted with the levels the lads managed to reach.”

Wolves – with nine goals in their last three games – are just one goal off last season’s tally of 31 and dominated from the start.

Hwang Hee-chan should have done better after a break from Cunha, but the hosts remained the aggressors and took the lead after 25 minutes.

James Tarkowski half-cleared a corner and when Cunha returned the ball from the right, Jordan Pickford produced a brilliant save to stop a Jarrad Branthwaite own goal – only for Kilman to scramble in the rebound.

It was just the captain’s second goal for Wolves – his other coming against Everton in November 2021 – and he celebrated by lifting Lemina’s shirt.

Everton were wretched and did not improve after the break, falling further behind after eight minutes when Cunha tapped in Hwang’s cross.

Hwang hit a post before Dawson added a third when he prodded in another Cunha centre.

Dwight McNeil’s drive rattled a post in Everton’s only moment of warning and Hwang and the returning Pedro Neto had goals disallowed as the hosts chased a fourth.

The Toffees sit fourth bottom, a point above the drop zone, having lost momentum following fourth straight wins earlier this month.

Boss Sean Dyche said: “They’ve had good results, especially at home, they played well and we were just off. I reminded the players they have come a long way and its only the second time we’ve been way off since Villa and that was the second game of the season.

“I don’t really like to question fixtures lists, but we know it’s a bit odd we have two league games until the end of January.

“When you are adding injuries it does get a bit more tough on the players. We put a lot into the last two performances and got nothing. You are wondering: ‘can they go again?’ and unfortunately we were left wanting.

“There’s a reality to what we all do. It’s not a lack of effort.”

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