Five years ago today, Norwich City beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in the Championship play-off final to seal an immediate return to the Premier League.
Supporters of both clubs flocked to the capital to witness both teams’ first appearance at the new Wembley Stadium, for a fixture often dubbed as the ‘most expensive game’ in English football.
Norwich City Beat Middlesbrough in Championship Play-Off Final
How They Reached the Final
Middlesbrough did the double over Norwich during the regular season, winning 4-0 at the Riverside Stadium and 1-0 in a tense affair at Carrow Road, with the latter having taken place just over a month before the eventual final. That victory looked to have given Aitor Karanka’s side a good chance of finishing in the automatic promotion spots, but a collection of just a single point from their final two games saw them finish in fourth place, with the Canaries in third.
Norwich’s promotion hopes had been slim at the start of 2015, with Neil Adams resigning just a few days into January after a disappointing end to his nine-month spell as manager. His replacement, 33-year-old Alex Neil, had won promotion in Scotland as player-manager of Hamilton Academical but was still a virtual unknown to many people south of the border. However, very few City supporters were doubting Neil four months later, after the Scot had guided Norwich to 15 wins from their remaining 22 league matches.
In the build-up to their first Wembley visit since 1985, Norwich were in particularly high spirits, having knocked out arch-rivals Ipswich Town in their two-legged semi-final. In the other tie, Boro swept Brentford aside with ease, beating them 5-1 on aggregate.
The Match Itself
After a frantic start to the final, in which both teams rattled the crossbar in quick succession, Norwich made the breakthrough 12 minutes in courtesy of Cameron Jerome. The powerful striker stole possession from former City man Daniel Ayala before dribbling towards goal and slotting the ball past goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos.
Just three minutes later, the yellow and green half of the national stadium were in dreamland as City doubled their lead. A move involving 17 consecutive passes ended with Steven Whittaker finding Nathan Redmond in space, who fired into the bottom corner with aplomb.
Despite their dominance over Norwich in the two games earlier in the campaign, Middlesbrough struggled to find a way back into the final, with chances few and far between. Arguably their best goalscoring opportunity came in the second half, when Ayala found space at a corner, but his header was blocked well by Lewis Grabban.
On-loan striker Patrick Bamford, who was Boro’s top scorer for the season with 17 league goals, had a very quiet afternoon. Bamford went on to represent Norwich in the top-flight in 2015/16.
At the end of a surprisingly very comfortable day for the Canaries, captain Russell Martin led his team up 107 steps to the Wembley balcony, where the play-off trophy, complete with yellow and green ribbons, was held aloft.
What Has Happened Since?
In the season that followed, Karanka and Middlesbrough were able to right the wrongs of 2014/15 as they achieved automatic promotion, beating Brighton & Hove Albion to second place on goal difference. In doing so, they switched divisions with Norwich, who were relegated from the Premier League after struggling to adapt to life back in the top-flight. However, Boro suffered the same fate a year later.
Now half a decade on from their play-off final match-up, Norwich and Boro find themselves in similar situations but in different divisions. The Canaries currently sit at the bottom of the Premier League, while Boro are languishing just two points above the drop in the second tier. Therefore, when the 2019/20 season eventually resumes as it is expected to, both teams will have work to do if relegation is to be avoided.