Gary O’Neil and Jonny Howson are the perfect double act at Norwich City

Gary O'Neil and Jonny Howson have impressed in central midfield. Photo: Paul Chesterton

Gary O'Neil and Jonny Howson have impressed in central midfield. Photo: Paul Chesterton - Credit: Archant

Alex Neil has hailed his midfield enforcers Jonny Howson and Gary O'Neil as key figures in Norwich City's Premier League revival.

Norwich City's Gary O'Neil has helped turn Norwich's fortunes around since he started wearing the he

Norwich City's Gary O'Neil has helped turn Norwich's fortunes around since he started wearing the head bandage. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

The central midfield duo impressed again in the vital 3-2 weekend win over Newcastle United which moved the Canaries four points clear of the bottom three. Howson and O'Neil have forged a strong bond following the season-ending ankle injury to Alex Tettey, and Neil knows the importance of getting the upper hand in a key battleground.

'That middle area of the pitch is your engine room,' he said. 'If you can pick up enough of the ball in there then it allows you to supply your front players to do what they are good at and if you can protect your defensive players then they are not required to do as much.

'Those two, as well as the rest, will be crucial over this period.

'They have been really, really good. I think they are both technically as good a footballers as a lot of central midfielders I see out there, they can do everything - tackling, passing and shooting. That was a bit of a blow for us looking back over the course of the season. We lost Alex through suspension and then injury and then Gary got suspended for three games at Stoke, when going into that game we had built up a good bit of momentum. That undone us in that match and the three after that.'

Jonny Howson of Norwich and Jonjo Shelvey of Newcastle United in action. Picture by Paul Chesterton/

Jonny Howson of Norwich and Jonjo Shelvey of Newcastle United in action. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

O'Neil was a free transfer signing in August 2014, while Howson has delivered value for money since his move from Leeds in 2012. The Canaries, however, also embarked on a record January transfer window outlay to try and retain their hard-won top flight status at the expense of clubs like Newcastle who have spent a reported £80m since last summer in the transfer market.

'Newcastle is a different kettle of fish because they spent money in the summer as well as January. Our circumstances were different, our recruitment team was not in a place where it should have been because we had a model that wasn't working,' said Neil. 'That was done and from then onwards and due to the fact we got promoted via the play-offs we had very little time to attract the players we wanted with the quality we needed so we couldn't get as much quality as we wanted before the summer window closed so we had to try and remedy that in January.'

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