Wembley woe drags on as Boro quickly punished

Middlesbroughs Lee Tomlin is consoled by team-mate Dean Whitehead after their Championship Play-off Final defeat to Norwich City at Wembley Stadium (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
Middlesbroughs Lee Tomlin is consoled by team-mate Dean Whitehead after their Championship Play-off Final defeat to Norwich City at Wembley Stadium (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).

SO May has not been a total nightmare for Ed Balls after all then.

Granted, the ousted former Morley and Outwood MP and Labour shadow chancellor has had better months, it is fair to say, after losing his seat in dramatic circumstances at the recent general election.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

But the avid Norwich City fan finally had reason to smile again yesterday afternoon, with his beloved Canaries booking their return ticket to the Premier League at the first time of asking at a canter. Never mind Andrea Jenkyns, Norwich are going up...

Seeking to end their six-year top-flight exile, it proved a game too far for Aitor Karanka’s Boro, who were stuck in traffic ahead of the game and then caught like rabbits in headlights after a fast-lane opening from Norwich.

They snapped away at Boro’s heels from the off and were rewarded for a high velocity opening with two contrasting goals after carving the Teessiders’ usually resolute defence open twice in the opening 15 minutes.

The first was coolly netted by Huddersfield-born striker Cameron Jerome, who slotted home low past Dimi Konstantopoulos for his 21st goal of the campaign after profiting from an error from ex-Canaries defender Daniel Ayala on 12 minutes.

Three minutes later, a well-crafted strike which possessed the Premier League stamp of quality arrived with Nathan Redmond, watched by England manager Roy Hodgson, finishing expertly for a goal of the highest order.

That was pretty much that, with Norwich afforded a comfortable afternoon.

The yellow-and-green clad Canaries fans were given minimal scares by a Boro side who huffed and puffed but lacked conviction with their race run after that colossal early double blow.

Watched by former Samba favourite Juninho, Boro could not evoke the magic of his bewitching spell on Teesside in the Nineties, with it being Delia Smith’s Norwich who instead cooked up a treat.

Thirty years on from beating another north-east side at Wembley in Sunderland – in the League Cup showpiece of 1985 when they disposed of East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town in the semi-final – Norwich afforded themselves a bit of a history re-run.

For Boro, whose red sea of raucous support was wholly admirable throughout, there was no comeback akin to those dual episodes which captivated the country en route to the UEFA Cup final in 2006 when they produced remarkable rallies against Basle and Steaua Bucharest to reach the showpiece in Eindhoven.

For the Teessiders, their Wembley curse struck again in the process. Four visits to the stadium before redevelopment had yielded no joy and a fifth at the revamped home of football produced a similarly grim tale.

Boro can reflect on a considerable journey in the 18-month tenure of Karanka, but the final climb proved just too arduous following an epic campaign.

The upshot is that the White Rose standard will not fly in the big time next season and for several with Yorkshire links in the Canaries’ line-up, most notably Jerome and former Leeds United duo Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson, there was an occasion for the scrapbook.

Both midfielders were part of the Whites side who lost out in an all-Yorkshire play-off final against Doncaster Rovers seven years to the day, but redemption was at hand. It was Johnson who fired the first salvo with a thunderous strike which shuddered the woodwork.

Within 60 seconds, at the other end, Jelle Vossen profited from Sebastien Bassong’s weak clearance and saw a similarly sweet long-ranger hit the bar with John Ruddy beaten – but it was not the prelude to a spell of Boro dominance.

Quite the opposite with Ayala, so strong for large parts of the season alongside Ben Gibson, seeing his pocket picked by Jerome, who kept his composure before firing home low past Konstantopoulos at his near post.

Three minutes later, Redmond finished off a flowing move to stun the massed ranks of Boro fans in the west end of Wembley.

It was a half in which Championship player of the year Patrick Bamford cut an isolated figure, with Norwich closing off the supply line.

On the restart, Norwich were able to consolidate and sit on their deserved gains and despite the commendable attempts of the Boro hordes to revitalise their side, it could not provide a catalyst in a half that their Norfolk rivals played out with few alarms.

Ayala headed over and Bamford fired a shot at Ruddy, while at the other end, Russell Martin and Redmond were off target with efforts on goal.

But Norwich had more than done enough to ensure that the top flight will have a Tartan representative in the dug-out next season – in the shape of the talented Alex Neil.

The £120m jackpot ticket belongs to Norwich and deservedly so.

Middlesbrough: Konstantopolous; Whitehead (Nsue 46), Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Leadbitter; Adomah, Vossen (Kike 68), Tomlin, Bamford. Unused substitutes: Ripley, Forshaw, Reach, Amorebieta, Woodgate.

Norwich City: Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin, Bassong, Olsson; Redmond (O’Neil 87), Howson, Tettey, Johnson; Hoolahan (Dorrans 75); Jerome (Grabban 74). Unused substiutes: Rudd, Hooper, E Bennett, R Bennett.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).