When the Wembley dreams came true for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It was a day to remember – five years ago, on May 25, 2015, City won the Championship play-off final at Wembley. Chris Lakey reports
‘We are Premier League’ shouted the front pages, ‘Back where we belong’.
No one of a yellow and green persuasion doubted it after a day that truly deserves its place in the history books as one of the greatest ever for Norwich City Football Club.
It wasn’t just the colour and excitement of a trip to Wembley, nor the fact that football’s richest game had been won by the Canaries.
Neither was it the fairytale story of Alex Neil who, four months earlier, had been the relatively unknown manager of Hamilton Academical – although exactly 12 months earlier, to the day, he had guided Accies to a play-off final penalty success.
First, strip away all that, fantastic though it was, and concentrate on a performance of footballing brilliance. It will be lost by some, in a beery, cheery haze of celebration, but City turned on a display that did the home of football proud.
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Just a few weeks earlier City had lost just their third league match of 2015, 1-0 at home to the same team they faced at Wembley, a severe dent to their automatic promotion hopes, leaving the tricky play-offs to negotiate. Four points from their next two games and a play-off semi-final win over Ipswich took them to the final.
Lessons had been learned, and they would stand Neil in good stead the next time he shook hands with his opposite number Aitor Karanka.
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“One thing we were criticised for in the last game was a slow start, and rightly so,” said Neil. “We knew how important the first goal was. If you look at their statistics this season there are not many occasions when they have not won after going in front and there has been only one occasion when they went a goal down and came back. My line-up showed that – I wanted us to be aggressive and offensive.”
The fast start saw City 2-0 up within 15 minutes – Bradley Johnson had already clattered the bar, Jelle Vossen doing the same moments later before Cameron Jerome struck, his persistence earning possession before he slotted it under keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos. Three minutes later Nathan Redmond thumped home the second, at the end of a lively spell of passing football, and it was game over.
City managed the game superbly for the remaining 75 minutes and simply kept Boro at arm’s length.
When the final whistle blew it was time to party: water bottles went flying, champagne was everywhere and the sight of 40,000 yellow shirts was magnificent.
Here’s what some of them said...
“The thing that drives me is letting people down and 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. I’m pleased I’ve made everybody happy. That means more than anything else and we have sent those fans home happy. My family were here and the last thing I’d want to do is lose and go home with my kids crying.”
“I said to Stephen Fry when the whistle had gone he (Neil) should be knighted, you wait, he’ll get one. I’m with the fans on that one. We are just bowled over by him.”
“We came here during the week and we said about the big pitch. Me and Wes were talking to each other, and said we could run riot here if we get the ball down and move it quickly.”
“My main aim at the start of this season was to get this club back into the Premier League. I’ve got 15 goals and player of the year so it’s been a great season and I’m going to enjoy the summer and we’ll come back in pre-season ready to go and keep ourselves in the Premier League next year.”
“The manager’s got it right, whatever we worked on in training we transformed it out there on the pitch so from our point of view it was interesting what he said and it worked, and we did a job on Middlesbrough.”
“At the end of the day it has ended up overall as a dream season. I played for Watford, they got promoted, I play for Norwich and we got promoted as well.”
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Ayala, Gibson, Whitehead (Nsue 45), Friend, Vossen (Kike 68), Clayton, Leadbitter, Tomlin, Adomah, Bamford. Subs not used: Amorebieta, Woodgate, Forshaw, Ripley, Reach.
Norwich: Ruddy, Olsson, Martin, Bassong, Whittaker, Redmond (O’Neil 87), Johnson, Howson, Tettey, Hoolahan (Dorrans 75), Jerome (Grabban 74). Subs not used: Hooper, Bennett, Rudd, Bennett.
Referee: Mike Dean