Canaries need to learn from past mistakes against Middlesbrough
25 May ~ After the hard work and eventual joy of beating our local rivals Ipswich in the play-off semi-finals, it's taken a few days for us Norwich fans to readjust and remember the job isn't yet done. Ahead of us at Wembley lies one of the division’s best-looking teams in Middlesbrough, a side who have beaten us 4-0 and 1-0 already and, frankly, scared the hell out of us when we last played them.
Normally that would be a recipe for resignation but the one-off nature of a Wembley final, coupled with having a manager in Alex Neil who genuinely appears to learn from defeats, means we know this is anyone’s game. Norwich looked tired towards the end of the season and the physical and aerial bombardments suffered at the hands of Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich side in the semi-finals gave us no respite. But something clicked in the second half of that final game: a spark brought us to life and by the end of the 3-1 win we looked suddenly refreshed.
That was due in no small part to the resurgence of winger Nathan Redmond, surprisingly picked to start both games after a season of unfulfilled promise. Neil has worked hard with him to adapt his game and his role in the final will be crucial. Normally asked to patrol the wings, Redmond has now been encouraged to use his not inconsiderable skill and pace to tear up the opposition wherever he fancies. If picked to start at Wembley, his job will be to trouble Middlesbrough’s stable and normally deep-lying centre backs, hopefully drawing them out of position which in turn will allow our attacking midfielders to make the most of the space.
Middlesbrough out-thought us when we played them a month ago and Neil will not let that happen again. He inexplicably tried to catch them out with long balls over the top and that led to Norwich getting hit on the counter time and time again. After 20 minutes it was a miracle we weren't 5-0 down. But our manager seems to have a knack of making crucial decisions at the right time, and his record of having lost only twice since taking over in January is testament to that.
Forty thousand yellow-and-green-clad supporters will be arriving at Wembley and with the same amount of Middlesbrough fans in the opposite end, it's going to look magnificent. The teams have no “history" and both play exciting football so we are expecting a friendly and good, if tight, game.
In a funny way – and I know I speak for many Norwich fans here – the prize of the Premier League is not the ultimate gain. It's about crowning an incredibly topsy-turvy, exciting season at a magnificent stadium with as many fans as we can cram in. We've experienced the top tier very recently and frankly it's not as much fun as the Championship. But to win at Wembley – something very few Norwich fans have ever experienced – would be just great. Paul Buller