Tuesday 21 November 2017

Canaries fly high as Wes Hoolahan makes Premier League return

Wes Hoolahan (14) and Martin Olsson celebrate victory after the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City at Wembley Stadium
Wes Hoolahan (14) and Martin Olsson celebrate victory after the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City at Wembley Stadium
Norwich City’s Irish international Wes Hoolahan celebrates with the trophy after gaining promotion to the Premier League at Wembley – Norwich beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in the Championship play-off final
Norwich City players celebrate with the trophy
Norwich City majority shareholder Delia Smith celebrates after her side's Championship play-off final victory at Wembley
Norwich's Cameron Jerome celebrates scoring their first goal with Jonathan Howson and Nathan Redmond

Henry Winter

Norwich City deservedly reached the Premier League because they played like a team that belongs in the top flight, being more organised and clinical than Middlesbrough. On the ball, City, as their supporters sang, and on their way to the Premier League.

Norwich went for the jugular from the first whistle, scoring through the outstanding pair of Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond within 15 minutes, and never looking like surrendering the lead. Their midfield was terrific, especially the likes of Alex Tettey, who simply refused to let Boro build up any moves of real substance. Their defence gave Patrick Bamford no room.

At the final whistle, the tireless Bradley Johnson fell to his knees, a mixture of exhaustion and elation. He had given everything to achieve this dream. This meant more than £120m. It meant the world to Norwich.

A smile resided on the face of Alex Neil, especially when John Ruddy soaked him in champagne and then Johnson hoisted him on his shoulders. Neil cut a composed figure, reflecting on the need to celebrate with a beer and see his family, smiling at the thought of being the only Scottish manager in the Premier League, and joking that while Aitor Karanka had been able to take pre-match advice from Jose Mourinho, he had sought the counsel only of his mother.


Beneath the quips lies a fiercely-driven manager, whose ability to motivate and shape a balanced team propelled Norwich up. Delia Smith suggested that he should be knighted. Sir Alex in the Premier League?

Hasn't that been done?

Neil took all the compliments in his stride but it really has been a fairytale season for him, starting in front of 730 people at New Douglas Park with Hamilton Academical beating Arbroath in a Scottish League Cup tie and climaxing with Championship play-off glory at Wembley with 85,636 in attendance. This was only Neil's 25th match in charge of Norwich, he surrendered his player registration only in January and will not complete his Pro-Licence for 18 months. Not bad for a 33-year-old.

Some Hamilton players cried when their manager left and no wonder.

This was also a victory for David McNally, the chief executive who helped target Neil and bring him south. This was especially a huge moment for Delia Smith, the majority shareholder of Norwich who marched across the pitch, clutching a "we are going up" flag, and being handed the play-off trophy by her captain, Russell Martin. Smith lifted the trophy to the acclaim of 40,000 fans.

During the game, Wembley's big screens showed Smith at one point, triggering a mass chant from the Norwich hordes of "come on, let's be 'aving you".

Bizarrely, Boro turned up only at 2pm, an hour before kick-off - Karanka shrugged off any criticism, saying he had expected traffic - " "it's London, not Middlesbrough" - but by 3.20, Norwich had one foot in the Premier League.

Neil's men dominated central midfield with Johnson, Wes Hoolahan and Jonny Howson running the show. The sides exchanged early strikes, both Johnson and Jelle Vossen hitting the frame of the goal, before Norwich demonstrated a more ruthless streak, taking the lead after 12 minutes. Daniel Ayala was too weak when Jerome hounded him, and Dimi Konstantopoulos proved an insufficient barrier in the Boro goal.

Norwich joy intensified within three minutes, following a goal from Redmond that was exquisite and lengthy in its construction. The ball was passed around crisply, involving Redmond, Howson, Hoolahan, Johnson, Jerome, Howson again, and Redmond again before Steven Whittaker took charge.

The full-back accelerated the attack, sliding the ball down the inside-right channel for Redmond, who controlled the ball elegantly with his left foot and then finished emphatically with his right.

It was a Premier League goal from what is now a Premier League team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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