Gary O'Neil: Portsmouth Great Escape better than sex - and I nearly joined Liverpool instead of Middlesbrough

Gary O'Neil, right, celebrates with Benjani after the striker scored against Wigan. Picture: Jonathan Brady
Gary O'Neil, right, celebrates with Benjani after the striker scored against Wigan. Picture: Jonathan Brady
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Gary O’Neil regards Pompey’s Great Escape as his favourite career moment and declared: It was better than sex. 

The midfielder insists the feeling after victory at Wigan in April 2006 – which ensured the Blues avoided relegation from the Premiership – was like no other.

Pompey were heading for the drop following a dismal start to the 2005-06 campaign, with Alain Perrin sacked in the November.

But Harry Redknapp returned to the Fratton Park hot seat – little more than a year after leaving for rivals Southampton – and helped steer Pompey to safety.

Pedro Mendes’ two wonder strikes against Manchester City sparked a run of five wins and two draws from eight games.

Pompey hauled themselves out of the bottom three and made the trip to Wigan on the penultimate day of the campaign looking to secure their top-flight status.

Pompey celebrate their Great Escape at Wigan. Picture: Steve Reid

Pompey celebrate their Great Escape at Wigan. Picture: Steve Reid

A strike from Benjani and a Matt Taylor penalty delivered the Blues a 2-1 success and ensured Redknapp’s side survived. 

Despite O’Neil winning three promotions during his career, the emotions after the final whistle at the JJB Stadium were superior.

Speaking to Talksport, he said: ‘Staying up for Portsmouth at Wigan (was the best moment of my career). 

‘We were like 21 points behind when Harry came back from Southampton and had been written off.

‘Even I thought we would never turn it around.

‘We had the whole away end sold out, like 5,000 Portsmouth fans and it was a really special day.’

When asked whether the feeling at the final whistle or sex was better, O’Neil replied: ‘That moment.’

O'Neil left Pompey for Middlesbrough in August 2007.

However, the Blues academy graduate revealed he’d been close to joining Liverpool only months earlier.

O’Neil added: ‘Just before I left Portsmouth to go to Middlesbrough I had Liverpool (lined up) when Rafa Benitez was in charge.

‘It was all sort of agreed, it was all going to go through. I think it was just coming up to January.

‘I got a phone call off an agent I didn’t know saying “If you don't let me do it or us do it then it’s not going to happen”.

‘I was like “I’ve been with my guy for ages, it’s all done”.

‘I got a call off my agent a couple of days later saying they’d pulled it.

‘I have never heard of him (the agent) since. I’d only spoken to my agent when we had the terms sent and it was all agreed.

‘I thought I was going there in the next window. I don’t know how real it was, whether my agent was pretending how real it was, I was only young at the time.

‘I thought I was nowhere near good enough or ready for this but thought let's roll with it and get better when I get there.’