FORMER Hamilton boss Alex Neil has won ‘the richest game in football’ after his Norwich City side defeated Middlesbrough to reach the English Premier League.
Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond put Norwich 2-0 up inside 15 minutes as the Canaries returned to the top flight a year after relegation.
It was also 12 months to the day since Canaries boss Alex Neil, who replaced Neil Adams in January, took Hamilton to the Scottish Premier League and the manager, largely unknown south of the border before joining the Canaries, has written his name into Norwich folklore.
Norwich were outside the top six when Neil took over but he guided them to third before a stunning Wembley win.
Jelle Vossen hit the bar for Boro and Daniel Ayala twice went close but they never recovered from Norwich’s quickfire double.
Patrick Bamford shrugged off an ankle injury to start for Boro and Jerome got the nod ahead of Lewis Grabban, available after a three-match ban, for Norwich and justified his selection early on.
The game had already started at break-neck speed with both Norwich and Boro smashing the bar inside a minute of each other.
First Bradley Johnson struck the woodwork with a half-volley from the edge of the box before Boro broke and Vossen’s rasping effort clattered John Ruddy’s bar.
But Jerome broke the deadlock when he cashed in on Ayala’s mistake in the 12th minute.
The striker robbed the former Norwich defender on the left-hand side of the box and raced towards Dimi Konstantopoulos.
With no Boro challenge coming the forward then had the simplest of chances to roll the ball between the goalkeeper and the near post from five yards.
And three minutes later the Canaries doubled their lead with a superb 17-pass move which Redmond lashed past Konstantopoulos.
Martin Olsson started the move, intercepting the ball, and it ended when Steven Whittaker found Redmond and his touch gave him space to drill across goal and into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
Shell-shocked, Middlesbrough could not respond in the first half despite managing to regain some composure.
Aitor Karanka’s side saw plenty of the ball but failed to test Ruddy in the Norwich goal with the Canaries comfortable with their lead.
Boro tried to change the tie at the break as Emilio Nsue replaced Dean Whitehead and Ayala headed over five minutes into the second half.
They were much improved and pinned Norwich back but Vossen was booked for diving after he went down in the area under Whittaker’s challenge in the box.
Ruddy then claimed Bamford’s 20-yard effort just before the hour with Boro stepping their play up a gear.
The Canaries offered little threat and Karanka looked to turn the screw as he replaced Vossen with Kike with 22 minutes left.
But Norwich almost grabbed a third a minute later when Russell Martin powered Redmond’s corner over from five yards.
The Canaries were nervous with Boro making the running and Grabban and Graham Dorrans replaced Jerome and Wes Hoolahan as they tried to wrestle back control with 16 minutes left.
Ayala then saw a header blocked by Grabban with eight minutes remaining but Norwich saw out the final stages with ease to clinch promotion.