Neil places his faith in players who won club top-flight spot


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The Independent Football

Alex Neil vowed to trust his Norwich City players in next season’s Premier League after guiding them up through the play-offs.

The remarkable turnaround in Norwich’s fortunes which Neil has brought climaxed in the 2-0 defeat of Middlesbrough at Wembley, meaning that Norwich achieved the rare feat of promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt.

While there are likely to be suitors for many of their players – especially the England Under-21 winger Nathan Redmond, who scored the brilliant second goal – Neil insisted that he would keep the team together and play them in the top flight.

“All your best players will always get interest,” said the Scot. “But we staved them off in January. Nobody will be leaving who we don’t want to leave. We’ll need to add a few quality signings, but I’ll need to stick with the core group. They’ve shown enough.”

Managing in the Premier League will be a long way from the Scottish second tier, where Neil was coaching Hamilton Academical one year ago. The 33-year-old was confident he could handle the challenge of top-flight coaching.

“We’ll be the underdog on most occasions,” Neil admitted. “I’m under no illusions. You’re always evolving and I’ll need to learn fast. But I’m prepared to put the hours in. I’m not silly, I know how big the task is ... it’s huge!”

Neil warned that survival in the Premier League would be difficult regardless of high expectations. “My biggest challenge is going to be expectation,” he said. “Two years, back-to-back promotions, people are expecting us to do really well in the Premier League. It’s extremely difficult just to compete at that level. The gulf is vast but there are teams that manage to do it.”

Neil was still a player-coach when he achieved promotion with Hamilton last year and he said that his decision to stop playing when he got to Norwich was difficult but had been vindicated.

“I was registered as a player but there are better players here now than me,” he said. “One of the hardest things when I came here was giving up playing but it’s probably one of the best decisions I ever made. I don’t really look back. People keep telling me I was at Arbroath with 700 fans at the start of the season, but it doesn’t concern me. I set goals, I don’t look back.”

The beaten Middlesbrough manager, Aitor Karanka, committed himself to the club and said he would start working today to get them back into the top flight after six seasons away.

“It’s not our moment now,” the Spaniard said. “It’s a big step forward this season and we have to keep going the same way because this club, this crowd and this city deserve to be in the Premier League. I will start tomorrow to prepare for next season because that is my job.”

Middlesbrough had been in the automatic promotion spots for most of the season but fell away at the end, something Karanka said would be a good learning experience.

“This team have done everything to get promotion this season,” he said. “We made two mistakes and in a final you pay for those mistakes.”