Live up to the hype, is Alex Neil's challenge to his Norwich City troops
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Norwich City proved they can mix it with the Championship aristocracy against Newcastle. Now the Canaries must pass a different test of their promotion credentials.
Alex Neil makes no apologies for placing Burton in the same feisty category as Cardiff, Wigan and Rotherham. City may have come up short at the Millers last month, but there can be no slips ahead of a maiden trip to the Pirelli Stadium.
“This game is now more important than Newcastle because we desperately need the three points,” he said. “We have to live up to our billing and perform and show the same characteristics of late. The game that stood out the last time we were in this league at this stage was beating Ipswich, and all the emotion that came with that, and then we lost to Wigan a few days later at home. It was a damp squib. We didn’t apply ourselves so we will make every safeguard to ensure we don’t fall into the same trap.
“Based on the budget they have got they have done extremely well to be in this position. They have lads like Lloyd Dyer and Michael Kightly, who have played in the Premier League, so they can hurt you. We have to win our individual duels to earn the right to play.”
Neil’s squad caught and then passed many promotion rivals two years ago and the Scot is demanding the same focus.
“There is no real alternative. We are not in a situation where we might go and settle for a point. We are the team that is chasing. I think it removes any grey areas,” he said. “It isn’t difficult for us to just concentrate on ourselves. If they lose, we need to win to close the gap. If they win we need to match that to ensure the gap doesn’t widen. For us, it is really, really simple.
“If you are being the one hunted you might be in a position where you have to weigh up whether you accept a point sometimes rather than risk all three. Whereas if we are in that situation on Saturday we will risk all three to go and win the game. I am not going to say if we don’t win then it is the end of the world, because you don’t know what the results will be elsewhere. We just want to avoid that scenario at all costs.”
Wes Hoolahan and Cameron Jerome proved the difference recently at Cardiff in a gruelling affair, but City’s deepening injury crisis is putting greater stress on Neil’s experienced operators.
“Wes, for instance, ran himself into the ground the other night and we get to the stage now with him where he puts up his hand to say I can’t run anymore. That is me done,” said Neil. “The one thing you know is he will leave everything on the pitch. The distances he covered were up there with anybody and he came off a few minutes earlier than most. I have spoken regularly how we need to manage his workload and make sure we get the maximum from him, but he has as big say in that in terms of knowing his body.
“Cam did not really feature against Nottingham Forest to keep him fresh for Newcastle. He was sick at half-time, he was struggling with his stomach, but like Wes he put his hand up when he could give no more. We can only protect them so much. They have to train, they have to stay fit and then come the game, mentally as much as anything else, they have to be tuned in, ready and raring to go. Certainly Cameron over this recent period of five or six games has been excellent in terms of how he has approached each game, his energy and intensity levels and the fact he is adding goals. He is in good form and we need a big push from him at Burton.”