Footballing fates pushed Norwich City and Ipswich together
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil felt the footballing fates would conspire to thrust Norwich City and Ipswich together in a heavyweight Championship play-off showdown.
City enjoyed a relatively serene final day passage to the league season after inflicting a first defeat on Fulham since March 1986, in sharp contrast to Town's toils at Blackburn.
Mick McCarthy's squad lost 3-2 at Ewood Park but clung on to sixth place by virtue of Derby's surprise 3-0 home league defeat to Reading.
Neil insists City will head to Portman Road this weekend buoyed by the manner of their landmark Cottagers' victory which confirmed third place in the table.
'It is huge and to be honest, I knew it would be Ipswich,' said the City boss. 'As a manager or a player those are the ones you want to be involved in. Finishing third doesn't really matter to me because ultimately it doesn't get us to the Premier League. We have to do the next stage now. We have amassed 86 points, which in previous seasons would have got us automatic promotion, so it was a good way to finish off the regular season. We knew we had the play-offs coming up so this had to be preparation for those games and I didn't want to finish on a whimper.'
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Johnson underlined why he was crowned player-of-the-year before kick-off, and Neil never contemplated cutting short the key midfielder's afternoon after his early yellow card.
'No, it wasn't in my mind to take him off,' he said. 'The reason being most of the players, once they pick up a yellow card, you can see how their games changes. They are clever lads so they don't then jeopardise themselves later on. There was an incident towards the end, over the far side of the pitch, where Bradley ducked out of a tackle, whereas generally that would never happen. It was purely because he was on a yellow card so I don't worry about them.
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'He has performed really well over the course of the season. To score 15 goals from central midfield is a fantastic return when you consider he has not been that prolific in other years in his career. To go and do that shows just how far his game has come on. It is an amazing tally. He can be pleased with his season but we have two games now to get us to Wembley.'
Neil brushed off the historical significance of a long-overdue Fulham win.
'Somebody had told me about that statistic, I don't read too much into those type of things to be honest. I suppose it is more significant for the fans,' he said. 'It is difficult when you have a team with nothing to play for. It had an end-of-season feel to it at the start but we wanted to try and keep the pace up and raise the tempo. Bradley and Nathan got us up and running and then it was peaks and troughs.'