Poll: Which Norwich City player do you think should step in to replace the suspended Bradley Johnson?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City chief Alex Neil is challenging his fringe men to step up with key midfidelder Bradley Johnson banned for the next two stops on the Canaries' Championship promotion push.
Johnson struck twice to beat Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday to take his tally for the season to 13 goals, but then picked up a bizarre yellow card for returning to the field of play without the permission of referee Craig Boyeson following treatment to a facial wound that rules him out of trips to Bolton and Leeds.
'I think it was avoidable. He didn't need to come on the pitch at the time,' said Neil. 'We should have ushered him on via the halfway line but, players being players, they want to get back on the pitch as quickly as possible. Whether it is a bookable offence or not I am not quite sure. It is done now. There is no point making a big deal of it. We just have to approach these next two games without him.
'I'll be able to tell you after the next two games how big a loss it is. You don't want to lose any of your players but particularly at this stage of the season. It just gives somebody else an opportunity now to come in and have an impact on the game and show their importance to the squad.
'I have said from day one we need all the guys to pull their weight and the fact that Bradley is suspended, well, we have had that before. We have had injuries as well and you look at someone like Lewis Grabban who is still not fit.'
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Neil had warned the Owls would not go through the motions, despite their comfortable mid-table mooring, and the Scot was proved right in a vibrant start before Johnson opened the scoring.
'If you are a professional you are used to games that matter for your club and for you,' he said. 'You have personal pride as a player. I don't think I ever took to the field feeling I had nothing to play for. You always have a point to prove. Some of those guys are probably playing for their contracts next season, or a move to another club, whatever it may be, and we had to make sure we were properly focused, and realise just how much was at stake for us.'
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City appear to have perfected the skill of crucial interventions prior to the interval, after Johnson's close-range second following a towering header, contained shades of their breakthrough against Nottingham Forest last time out at home.
'After we scored the first, we had a couple of other opportunities, I remember Wes (Hoolahan) wriggled past a few and could have scored or squared it. At that stage we were well on top but it was crucial to get that second one,' said Neil. 'As we saw against Derby, regardless of how much you dominate, one error or one goal for them and the game can completely change. I said to the boys we needed to start the second half really positively and get the third without leaving ourselves open at the back because 2-1 is a dodgy scoreline; you have to decide in that situation whether to sit on what you have, to protect or to gamble so it was important we were balanced in our approach.'