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Championship play-off final Preview: Karanka and Neil eye swift ascent to Premier League

Middlesbrough take on Norwich City in the Championship play-off final on Monday, as two relative newcomers to English football bid to guide their sides to country’s top flight.

Aitor Karanka has been in charge at the Riverside Stadium since November 2013, while Norwich boss Alex Neil only arrived at Carrow Road from Hamilton Academical in January.

Both now stand on the brink of a place in the Premier League and, ahead of a match widely recognised as the ‘richest game in football’, Karanka has urged his players to make the most of their opportunity.

“I think it’s amazing for everybody, especially for me,” he told the club’s official website. “I came here 18 months ago and I couldn’t imagine at that time we would be playing at Wembley. 

“We’re going there because the players have had an amazing season and have done an amazing job every single day at Rockliffe [Park, Boro’s training ground]. For this reason they deserve to be at Wembley.

“The main thing is not to celebrate, because we haven’t achieved anything at this moment. But I think we need to know how beautiful this moment is for everybody. “

Middlesbrough comfortably overcame Brentford to book their trip to Wembley, while Norwich, who started the season under the leadership of Neil Adams, got the better of fierce rivals Ipswich Town.

“It will be a special occasion for everyone involved, but you want to have the memories of a win,” Neil told Norwich City TV. “The last thing you want to do is go there and be disappointed. 

“It’s going to be fantastic. It will be great for myself, the players and everybody involved with the club.

“We’ve not been to Wembley in 30 years, so it will be a special occasion, but it’s only special if you get across the line and win.

“What you’re hoping is that our players can have more than an impact in the game than theirs, and I think that’s what is going to be the decisive factor on the day. 

“I think we’ve got to start well. I don’t think we started the game at Carrow Road well enough, and I think the first goal will be important as well. If we start on the front foot and get ourselves into the lead, then that gives you the platform to build.”

Middlesbrough won both of the regular-season meetings between the pair, claiming a 4-0 victory on home soil before their 1-0 triumph at Carrow Road.

Norwich were relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season, while Boro’s last appearance in the top flight came back in 2008-09.

Sat 23 May, 2015
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