Neil: It's crunch time

ALEX Neil has challenged his players to take advantage of their improved league position by putting in the hard yards between now and the season’s end.

City were outside the Sky Bet Championship’s top six when the Scot was took over as manager in January, but with seven matches remaining they sit just three points off the division’s summit.

Ahead of their visit to Brighton on Good Friday (3pm), Neil accepted that he would have taken the Canaries’ current standing if he was offered it on his appointment.

“Of course I would have done. At that stage I was just trying to get us a place above where we were and get us into the playoffs as a minimum requirement,” he told Norwich City TV.

“We’ve found ourselves in a position now where automatic promotion is a real possibility, but it’s by no means anywhere near done.

“We’ve got huge amounts of work to do, and it starts on Friday. It’s crunch time now. The next few weeks are really going to dictate our future. We need to make sure that first and foremost we take care of this game.”

City’s boss is set to welcome Ryan Bennett (hamstring) back into his matchday squad, and he was also happy to report a clean bill of health following the March international break.

Bradley Johnson (foot) will also be fit despite limping off towards the end of the Nottingham Forest match a fortnight ago.

“Everyone has come back in good shape, which is obviously great news,” he added.

“They’re relatively fresh. A lot of the guys didn’t play in their second match away with their countries, which has been useful for us. In terms of preparation, it couldn’t have really gone any better.

“Our whole focus is on playing against Brighton and looking to play as well as we can. The players will be well briefed; they’ll know exactly what their task is. We’ll be fully prepared.”

Neil is expecting a stern test against an Albion side who have made a marked improvement since ex-Canaries boss Chris Hughton took charge on New Year’s Eve.

“Defensively they’ve certainly improved. They’re a tough nut to crack, so we’re going to have to make sure that we move the ball quickly and also that we’re crafty enough on the edge of the box to create chances for ourselves,” he said.

“The first goal is going to be crucial – if we score it, Brighton will have to change their style of play. If they get the first goal, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for us.

“We’ve performed really well away from home. It tends to encourage the home team to come out a little bit more, and I think we enjoy playing against that. I’m hoping that our away form continues.”

Sheffield Wednesday, Monday April 6, 3pm


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