Tyrone captain Mattie Donnelly ultimately settled a frantic affair in Newbridge with a brilliant match-winning point six minutes into injury-time.
Kildare dominated the possession stakes for the most part and were in front as late as the 65th minute but simply couldn’t close it out.
It’s their third straight loss and they’re staring down relegation now though O’Neill claimed that Roscommon referee Neilan did them no favours.
O’Neill was furious in particular that Neilan didn’t apply the advantage rule on three separate occasions, claiming that there were clear scoring opportunities in two of them.
After a tight game that Tyrone won by a single point, the normally mild-mannered O’Neill couldn’t hide his frustration.
“I thought we had three really good, well, two scoring opportunities in advantage scenarios, two really strong strong ones, and we were blown back for the free,” fumed O’Neill. “If it happens once it’s disappointing and it’s a mistake, if it happens three times it’s borderline embarrassing for me, if I was in that position (as referee).
“Tyrone are a seasoned team, they’re a very experienced team and they’re difficult to break down. We still clipped 18 points which is really pleasing but two of those three instances, we were actually penetrating through the middle which is so hard to do against them and we were blown back.
“If it happens too many times, it’s just not on. Guys train too hard for those things to happen.”
It’s consecutive one-point defeats for Kildare in Newbridge and former Kerry coach O’Neill said his players are ‘pissed off’ at failing to seal the deal again.
Kevin Feely was terrific for them at midfield and dominated his area, scoring nine points and giving an exhibition of free-taking, high fielding and distribution.
Yet the former soccer professional will have nightmares about the 68th minute free he dropped short and goalkeeper Mark Donnellan failed to convert another in the 70th minute.
Ulster champions Tyrone punished those misses with an iron fist and outscored Kildare by 0-3 to 0-1 in the closing minutes to pinch a crucial win.
“If you didn’t win this one, you’re three and nought, not a great place to be,” observed Tyrone boss Mickey Harte. “Three and one still doesn’t leave you out of the woods by any means but at least there’s a wee bit of optimism there now. You’ve the possibility to stay away from the very bottom. That late point of Mattie Donnelly’s was priceless in terms of overall league points.”
Both sides began the day rock bottom in Division 1 and after a bright Kildare start, when they surged four points clear, it opened out into a tight, tit-for-tat encounter.
The sides were level six times in the second-half and eight in total though the end result was another defeat for Kildare, their seventh in a row.
That’s a tale of woe that stretches all the way back to last summer when they last won a game, against Meath in the Leinster championship.
“In the absence of actual wins and league points, the positives are the performances which are improving all the time,” said O’Neill. “I think we’re showing battling qualities that maybe wouldn’t have been associated with Kildare teams for quite some time.
“There’s disappointment but there’s no panic. We’re training well. The lads are in great form. They’re going to be really pissed off after that performance, no more than last week.”
Kildare retained a four-point lead after 25 minutes when they were 0-8 to 0-4 up, thanks in part to a brace of points from both Fergal Conway and Feely.
But a 29th-minute goal from Lee Brennan hauled Tyrone right back and they took a slender 1-8 to 0-10 lead at the interval.
It was a goal from nothing as Brennan seized possession at the back post and fired low past Donnellan following a long ball in from the right wing by Cathal McShane.
Kildare were largely on top throughout the second half and with Feely pulling the strings they drew a series of frees for fouls on the likes of David Hyland and Conway.
Feely routinely converted them though Tyrone remained in touch on the scoreboard with a series of points from Padraig McNulty, Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey.
In windy, heavy conditions, Kildare led 0-17 to 1-13 with 65 minutes on the clock and felt they were in a position to hang on for a much-needed win.
But Tyrone brought all their big game experience to bear on the closing stages and ensured that Kildare left empty-handed.
Donnelly was terrific in those final minutes and kicked two beauties from the left wing, the second of which proved to be the winning point.
McShane also converted a great score as Kildare were left wondering ‘what if’ after Feely and Donnellan failed to convert their frees.
“I wouldn’t blame them, they even themselves out I think across a game, especially in conditions like that,” said O’Neill. “I think if you look at it over the 70 minutes, nearly 80 minutes in total, there were other chances that were equally as easy for us. They’re things we’ll have to look at ourselves. It’s those things, fine margins.”
L. Brennan (1-3, 3 frees); N. Sludden (0-3); M. Donnelly, C. McAliskey (1 free), C. McShane (0-2 each); N. Morgan (1 free), T. McCann, P. McNulty, D. McCurry (0-1 each).
K. Feely (0-9, 8 frees); F. Conway (0-2); D. Flynn, B. McCormack, M. Donnellan (1 45), P. Kelly, P. Cribbin, N. Kelly, C. O’Donoghue (0-1 each).
N. Morgan; C. McCarron, P. Hampsey, H.P. McGeary; T. McCann, R. Brennan, C. McLaughlin; P. McNulty, C. McShane; C. Meyler, N. Sludden, M. Donnelly (c); L. Brennan, C.. McAliskey, P Harte.
C. McCann for McNulty (8-10, blood); M. McKernan for McLaughlin (39); D. McCurry for R. Brennan (43); R. McNamee for McNulty (54); C. McCann for L. Brennan (58), M. Bradley for McAliskey (61); K. McGeary for T. McCann (77).
M. Donnellan; P. Kelly, M. O’Grady, D. Hyland; J. Byrne, E. Doyle (c), C. O’Donoghue; K. Feely, T. Moolick; F. Conway, N. Kelly, P. Cribbin; B. McCormack, D. Flynn, P. Brophy.
J. Hyland for McCormack (h/t); L. Flynn for Moolick (48); C. Healy for N. Kelly (55); K. Cribbin for Conway (61); C. McNally for Brophy (65).
P. Neilan (Roscommon).