MIDDLESBROUGH 0 NORWICH 2
NORWICH manager Alex Neil believes his side can thrive in the Premier League next season after he wrote the latest chapter in his remarkable ascent by masterminding victory in the Championship play-off yesterday.
Two goals in the space of three first-half minutes from striker Cameron Jerome and winger Nathan Redmond saw Neil’s Canaries defeat Middlesbrough and secure a return to the top flight at the first opportunity.
It ensured Norwich an income boost of at least £80m, according to Deloitte, a figure that will more than double if they avoid relegation in their first season and benefit from a bumper new television rights deal.
Despite being just 33 and little more than two years into a coaching career, Neil had already gained promotion and punched above his weight in Scotland with Hamilton Academical before joining Norwich in January.
Now, having repeated the first part of that feat at Wembley, the Scot is confident Norwich can emulate his Hamilton side and do more than merely survive among the country’s biggest teams.
“I’m not silly, I know how big the task is. We’ll be one of the smallest clubs going into the Premier League, but clubs of similar size do okay. I did it with Hamilton. Our job is to compete,” he said.
“My biggest challenge is going to be expectation. Two years, back to back promotions; people will expect us to do well in the Premier League but it’s extremely difficult. The gulf between the Championship and the Premier League is vast, you can see that. But teams go up and do it.”
Middlesbrough had won the two league meetings between the sides this term but were quickly on the back foot in a frantic opening that saw both teams hit the crossbar within 30 seconds of each other.
First Norwich struck the woodwork through midfielder Bradley Johnson’s shot, after Jerome had failed to connect with a header; then Boro forward Jelle Vossen did likewise at the other end from 20 yards.
Jerome made amends by opening the scoring on 12 minutes, robbing Boro’s former Canaries defender Dani Ayala before slotting past goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos at his near post.
England Under-21 star Redmond doubled Norwich’s lead moments later, capping a lengthy passing move by gathering right-back Steven Whittaker’s pass with his first touch and rifling a low shot into the far corner with his second.
Boro’s on-loan Chelsea forward Patrick Bamford failed to reproduce the form that earned him the Championship’s player of the year, a tame shot on the turn comfortably held by John Ruddy proving his biggest test to the Norwich goalkeeper.