So, just who is the new Norwich City manager? Many supporters had been asking themselves that very question when they first heard the name, Alex Neil, upon rumours of his being approached following Neil Adams’ resignation. Canary fans scouring the Internet had a mixed response to the information they found. Neil was a young player-manager at Scottish Premiership club Hamilton Academical – who? For many it seemed the Norwich City board were again pursuing the ‘cheap option.’
After Chief Executive David McNally’s claim that Norwich had ‘scoured Europe’ before appointing Neil Adams, it was important for the board to get this appointment right. With Adams’ apparent successor having only two years’ managerial experience in Scottish football, it led many to point out that often-made comparison between the Scottish and English football systems that put many City fans off the idea of appointing former Celtic boss, Neil Lennon – despite him masterminding the famous 2-1 win over Barcelona.
On the surface then, the idea of a young, inexperienced manager coming to take the reins had many asking, ‘Isn’t that who we just had in charge?’ Many of the yellow army wanted someone who knows the ins and outs of the Football League Championship, such as veteran Neil Warnock. However, further research turned up some interesting information. Neil had taken over at Hamilton after the departure of Billy Reid in April 2013 when the Accies were a mid-table side. A year later and Neil had led his club of ten years to the Scottish Premiership via the play-offs and had them jostling with the likes of Celtic, Aberdeen and Dundee United near the summit of Scottish football.
In addition, his win ratio in his two seasons was around 55% – a huge figure bearing in mind that Hamilton are not an established Premiership side. Indeed, their success under Neil was not because they were a star-studded side, but rather because they were a relatively young team wanting to play for their manager. What Hamilton perhaps lacked in quality, they made up for in desire and belief. It is no surprise that Neil was highly spoken of north of the border. City fans were quietly optimistic and hopes for ‘a new Paul Lambert ‘ began to emerge as supporters reminisced of the days when attacking football saw Norwich rise from the ashes of league one obscurity to the Premier League in just two years.
Neil’s appointment to the hot-seat was confirmed a day before Norwich travelled to Championship league leaders, Bournemouth. A turbulent week had seen the team prepared for the game by coaches Mike Phelan and Gary Holt, but that wouldn’t stop the new boss from having an impact. Politely refraining from intruding too much, Neil originally offered to talk to the players before kick-off and at half-time. However the new man descended from the directors’ box to grab the bull by the horns following Jonny Howson’s contentious dismissal on the hour. Level at one-all, down to ten men away at Dean Court, Norwich faced an uphill task to hold onto a valuable point. Those associated with Norwich and Bournemouth were perhaps shocked to witness such valiant defending in the face of this adversity, and fans were sent into raptures when, ten minutes from time, Cameron Jerome curled in a beautiful winner from 25 yards.
That glorious win was followed up by a nervy defeat of Cardiff. Having rushed into a 3-0 half-time lead, with John Ruddy denying the Bluebirds’ Peter Whittingham from the spot, it looked like Norwich would go on to destroy Cardiff in the same way they had despatched Huddersfield and Millwall before the New Year. However, two Cardiff goals in four minutes made for a tense finish. Norwich held on though, leaving Neil with six points from six and the prospect of getting back into the top six.
The incoming boss’ impact has not been restricted to matters on the pitch however. With his assistant at Hamilton, Frankie McAvoy, set to join the Norwich back-room staff, coach Phelan has left the club having only joined the Canaries two months ago; speculation continues as to why, though it is possible there was some resentment at not being considered for the manager’s position. What is important now is that the whole club focuses its collective mind on building the momentum established in Neil’s first two games, as they seek a Premiership return at the first attempt. All Norwich fans should know, however, it’s never as simple as that.