Wednesday 21 March 2018

Mum's the word for Neil ahead of play-off final

Norwich 3-1 Ipswich (4-2 agg)

Norwich City manager Alex Neil has guided his team to a play-off final against Middlesbrough
Norwich City manager Alex Neil has guided his team to a play-off final against Middlesbrough

John Percy

When the Championship manager of the year is announced the day after the play-off final, the name of Alex Neil is unlikely to figure highly.

Norwich City were the pre-season promotion favourites - they managed to keep the majority of their squad together after relegation and spent millions in the summer transfer window.

But they were drifting away from the play-off places last year with a squad suffering from complacency, until Neil was the surprise appointment in January.

This victory against Ipswich Town was his 16th from 24 games, and that record cannot be ignored.

He will face Middlesbrough at Wembley and attempt to find a way past Aitor Karanka, who has the ear of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. So who will Neil call?

"I'll probably just give my mum a phone. Tactically I'm pretty clear on what I want to do, and it seems to be working so far," he said. "It is a challenge for me, for the players as well."

Neil's reputation is growing rapidly and this victory never looked in doubt after the dismissal of Christophe Berra early in the second half swung the momentum in Norwich's direction.

Berra was sent off for handball, with Wes Hoolahan scoring from the resultant penalty and, though Tommy Smith equalised for Ipswich, the hosts eased through after goals from the excellent Nathan Redmond and Cameron Jerome.

Neil has already made plans for this week. "The gaffer is taking us down to Wembley so we can get a feel for the place," revealed captain Russell Martin.

While Norwich stay on course for a swift return to the top flight, Ipswich were left facing up to a 14th consecutive season out of the elite and possibly facing a battle to keep Mick McCarthy.

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