Belfast Telegraph

Neil keeping feet on ground

Manager Alex Neil refused to get carried away after guiding Norwich back into the Barclays Premier League and securing a £130million promotion jackpot with a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley which continued his own meteoric rise in the dugout.

Almost 12 months ago to the day, it was Neil who masterminded Hamilton's promotion to the Scottish Premiership, and following his appointment in January the unheralded Scotsman has presided over a remarkable run which took the Norfolk club back into the top six and culminated in what was a comfortable victory over Boro in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final, with first-half goals from Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond.

Despite the magnitude of the achievement in such a short space of time, with 17 victories from 25 games, the 33-year-old intends to stay grounded.

"The goal was to gain promotion. We aimed for automatic, it was difficult but we got close, so then it was important that we remained focused," said Neil.

"The thing that drives me is letting people down. The fact that Norwich showed faith in me giving me the job, being so young, a lot was made of that, they showed plenty of courage.

"So I am pleased I have made everybody happy, that means more than anything else and we have sent those fans home happy.

"You see (majority-shareholder) Delia (Smith) on the pitch at the end and it's special. It was about making sure my family is there enjoying the day because the last thing I would want to do is lose and go home with my kids crying."

Neil added: "People have made a lot of the last year, telling me I was at Arbroath in front of 700 fans at the start of the season, but it is not a huge concern to me.

"I set goals and am really determined to achieve them, whether it is Hamilton or Norwich. I don't get overawed by anyone or any place."

Neil, though, knows next season will be nothing like he has ever experienced.

The Scot, who is still working on his UEFA pro-licence said: "I am not silly, I know how big the task is.

"It is going to be extremely different and I am under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be, but we have our goals once we get there about what to do, so hopefully it will be enough."

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka preferred to reflect on the positives of recent progress, despite the dejection of failing to record a third victory over Norwich this season.

"I want to congratulate Norwich for getting promotion, but I am so proud of my players, my chairman and club," said the Spanish former Real Madrid coach.

"When I arrived here 18 months ago the team was two points above relegation, with only 13,000 people at the Riverside (Stadium).

"Today we saw that we are a Premier League club (for our supporters) and it is my job to take them into the Premier League again."

Karanka added: "When you make mistakes it is difficult to win games, but I prefer not to speak about the mistakes because we achieved to play here at Wembley as a team, so we win as a team and we lose as a team."

The Spaniard believes Boro have the foundations in place to mount another sustained promotion bid again come 2016.

"We have made a big step for what we have done since the beginning of the season and I am looking forward to next season," he said.

"I have one more year on my contract. When I came here my objective was to put Middlesbrough in the Premier League, and I always said I could not choose a better place for my career."

Karanka insisted on-loan Chelsea forward Patrick Bamford was "100 per cent" ready to play, despite concerns over his fitness in the build-up to the match.

The Middlesbrough manager also had no issues with the late arrival at the team coach to Wembley, coming in just an hour before kick-off.

"It is not the first time, so that is not why we lost today," he said.

"Sometimes if the players are in the changing room a lot of time (before kick-off), there is more pressure, so we prefer to go to the pitch for the warm-up."


From Belfast Telegraph