Norwich 2 - 0 Middlesbrough (half-time 2-0)
Twelve months on from enjoying delight in the play-offs in Scotland, Alex Neil was successful again yesterday south of the border in the Championship play-off final. He guided Norwich City back into the top flight in England, after a commanding display at Wembley in front of 85,000 fans against rivals Middlesbrough. Two quick-fire goals from Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond in the first-half were enough to clinch their promotion back to the #Premier League and a potential windfall of around £120 million.
Early strikes decisive
Most of the notable action seemed to occur in the first quarter of the match. By then, Norwich had seen Bradley Johnson's wonderful strike hit the Boro crossbar, but the Teessiders were equally unfortunate when Jelle Vossen's shot also rebounded off the woodwork at the other end.
Norwich had looked sharp from the outset, perhaps capitalising on their opponents' late arrival at the ground after a delay due to heavy traffic. Their rewards came early on. Daniel Ayala dithered in possession just outside his penalty area, allowing Jerome to outmuscle him and bear down on goal. While Boro players and fans appealed in vain for a whistle, the City frontman coolly slotted the ball past Dimi Konstantopoulos at his near post to put the Canaries 1-0 ahead on 12 minutes.
Neil's men soon doubled their advantage as they sensed that this was the crucial period of the game. Three minutes later Redmond was played in down the right flank and his unerring right-foot finish found the corner of the Boro net.
To say that their opposition were shell-shocked would be an understatement. This was not in their game-plan. Twice before this season Boro had beaten City in the Championship. Neither time had they trailed to the East Anglian side. Suddenly the dynamic of the game was turned on its head, with Norwich instead able to dictate play from the box-seat.
Comfortable for City
The second-half became a bit of a procession for Norwich, with Boro seemingly incapable of ditching their defensive strategy to become more assertive going forward. Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford still seemed willing, but for once his abilities could not turn the game around. He should have his day in the future though one suspects, either with Boro or back at the Premier League champions.
Both sides had a headed chance in the box in the second-half. Russell Martin for City would have been unhappy to see his chance clear the bar; Ayala had a free header that was ably blocked by City's well-marshalled rear-guard.
Repeat success for Neil
Cue the final whistle and unbridled elation for the yellow and green of Norwich. 33-year-old Neil had repeated his success with Hamilton in the Premiership play-offs last season, this time clinching a place in the top league in England. His impact on the fortunes of City since his arrival in January has been quite staggering, turning their form around and only missing out on a top two place by a whisker.
There may even have been a few of his old club's fans at the ground, with good luck messages having been posted on social media by them before the match, such was the esteem he was held in at Hamilton. That feel-good factor seems to be shared in the hearts of Norwich City fans today, as they look forward to welcoming back the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal to Carrow Road next season. #Football