After just one season away from the top flight of English football, the Norwich City Canaries are making a triumphant return to the Premier League.
Norwich put on a masterful performance in front of 90,000 strong at Wembley this morning, taking down Middlesborough, a team that beat them twice this season, and had yet to concede a goal to the Norwich side. In an up and down season for Norwich, the Canaries fell as far as 11th in the Championship table, but were able to secure a playoff spot on the final day of the season, and after a trio of wins against regional rivals Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough see Norwich return to the English Premier League.
Tactically, Norwich’s performance was incredible. They came out blistering in the first half, boasting a side ripe with Premier League experience and clearly ready for the big game. Cameron Jerome, the top scoring striker for the Canaries dominated the Middlesbrough defenders from the from the first kick, utilizing his pace to beat defenders on the edge. Jerome secured the first goal of the contest in just the 12th minute, beating his defender on the right side, taking the goalkeeper one on one and slotting the ball past him on the near post. The goal sent the Norwich City fans into a frenzy, but their Canaries were hardly finished.
Just three minutes later, Norwich mounted another attack, this time with Nathan Redmond, a young English winger desperate to see his side reach the top flight. Redmond accelerated down the wing, into the penalty area, and slotted the ball far post past the Middlesbrough keeper. With the amazing play of both Redmond and Jerome, Norwich had all the goals they needed on the day.
Norwich’s victory came down to their amazing tactical play, which falls on the shoulders of manager Alex Neil. At just 33 years-old, Neil has forged his legend, not just in the hearts of Norwich City fans, but in English football as a whole. The Scotsman took over the Norwich job in January, with the Canaries sitting in seventh, three points back of a playoff spot. The second youngest manager in the entire Football League, Neil was a relative unknown to the Norwich faithful, leading many fans to question the move. However, as those same fans watched their beloved Canaries return to the Premier League today at Wembley, I’m sure they no longer questioned the leadership of Alex Neil.
It’s important to recognize not just Neil’s promotion achievement, but the manner in which he did it. Norwich City are an experienced side. Nearly every player in their squad has Premier League experience, and as recently as last season, the Canaries played in what many consider the best league in the world. For a manager as young as Neil to come in and turn the Norwich season around in this manner, earning promotion on his first try, represents a truly impressive accomplishment for any manager, let alone one who is just 33 years-old. While Neil was a relative unknown when he took the job in January, he will undoubtedly become one of the most celebrated managers in all of English football.
Throughout the game, Norwich looked the better side, and when the second half began, it was clear Middlesbrough had no chance. With two goals in hand, the Canaries locked down defensively, and frustrated the Boro attack at every angle. Without any outlet to score, Middlesbrough looked deflated by the end of the game. Congratulations on your promotion Norwich fans. The Canaries certainly earned it.