From opposing bosses, to spearheading Norwich City’s play-off charge

Norwich manager Alex Neil and first-team coach Gary Holt. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Lt

Norwich manager Alex Neil and first-team coach Gary Holt. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Sitting alongside Alex Neil in the Wembley dugout will be a man who has been through the drama of play-off final duty for Norwich City before, first-team coach Gary Holt.

The man known as 'Three Lungs' when he was a player returned to the club last summer when Neil Adams was appointed as manager of City.

The 42-year-old stepped down as manager of Falkirk to return to Carrow Road, who he had led to the Scottish Championship play-offs – losing to Neil's Hamilton side.

In a strange twist, the pair who faced each other as managers a year ago are now preparing for the Championship play-off final as colleagues, allowing Neil to draw on Holt's experience as a City player.

The midfielder's Canaries career included being part of the 2002 team which were beaten on penalties by Birmingham in the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff – playing on despite a foot injury.

'Obviously I've spoken to Gary about his experience. However, they didn't win the match so I'm not sure it's something that we really want to go into in a lot of depth,' Neil said with a wry smile. 'We want to go in with a positive frame of mind as much as anything else.

'I know he broke his toe in the first couple of minutes. He's good at what he does, Gaz, he and Frankie (McAvoy, assistant) are obviously heavily involved with training and are good to have about the place.

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'And Gary's connection with Norwich is something we've tapped into in terms of he's been here for a long time and knows what the club is about, so two of my extremely valuable members of the squad.'

With the Championship play-off final being worth around £120million to the victor, the pressure a year on is markedly different for the duo.

However, Neil has experience of big stadiums and big pressure from this season, having led Hamilton to a 1-0 win over Celtic in October – the Accies' first at Celtic Park in 76 years – in front of over 42,000 spectators.

'Atmosphere-wise there will be similarities but I don't think in terms of the game,' Neil reflected on that historic victory for his former club, which left the club top of the Scottish Premiership table.

'We went to Celtic as huge underdogs, that won't be the case this time, I think a lot of people have got a split, the bookies have got a split, on who is favourites, us or Middlesbrough, so I think it shows just how close it is to call. It really does boil down to who performs on the day and obviously we're hoping that's going to be us.'

Neil also experienced plenty of big matches in his time as a player, as a tenacious midfielder for Barnsley, Mansfield and Hamilton.

'I think the Old Firm games were always the big games, when you played Celtic or Rangers,' Neil continued. 'There was quite a few of those games, I think we drew 3-3 with Rangers in the cup at home, which was a great experience.

'I think those type of games, probably because of the fans that were there. Obviously the derby against Motherwell was also a big one, we had a couple of Challenge Cup finals as well. So there's been big games that I've been involved with over the course of my career but I think they're all big when you're involved with a club like Norwich.'