Two of the brightest young managerial prospects in the English football league are set to go head to head in the Championship final on Monday.
Jose Mourinho-protege Aitor Karanka has enjoyed a fine full first season with Middlesbrough, leading them within a whisker of automatic promotion.
His opposite number, Alex Neil, might be the third-youngest manager in the league, but already has an excellent spell at Hamilton Academical under his belt as well his Norwich stint.
The Scottish manager guided the Accies into the Scottish Premiership via a play-off victory over Hibernian in 2014.
The success continued in the top flight, with Hamilton sitting in top spot at times during the first half of the campaign, and beating Celtic at Parkhead for the first time in 76 years.
All this convinced Norwich that Neil was the man to resurrect their flailing campaign, and they lured him south in January.
So far it has proved an excellent decision. When Neil arrived in East Anglia the Canaries were seventh in the Championship and their hopes of an immediate return to the Premier League seemed to be fading.
After the 33-year-old’s appointment, Norwich won 15 out of 22 league games, suffering just three defeats, to climb to third in the Championship.
Neil then pulled off an even more satisfying feat, leading his side to a 4-2 aggregate win over bitter rivals Ipswich in their play-off semi-final.
Norwich have all the momentum going into Monday’s final, but it is worth noting that one of their defeats under Neil came against Karanka’s Middlesbrough.
Boro pinched a 1-0 victory at Carrow Road in mid-April, a result that stands as the Canaries’ only loss in their past 13 and gives hopes to the side from the north-east that they will be able to derail the Neil juggernaut at Wembley.
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