There was little doubt as to where Alex Neil’s gaze was straying after today’s comfortable 2-0 derby home win – upwards.
The 33-year-old Scot is fast carving out a name for himself in English football.
Eight wins in your first ten games in a league as treacherous and demanding as the Sky Bet Championship is a record that would grab anyone’s attention. The fact that this is his first experience of managerial life south of the border makes it all the more extraordinary.
His name will be crossing the lips of a few Premier League chairman already.
On current form, however, he will be there with his current employers before anyone else has time to move. He’s a young man in a hurry and Norwich are reaping that particular whirlwind.
“As a group, we’re doing well – we’ve put ourselves into contention,” said Neil this afternoon, as goals either side of the break from the unstoppable Bradley Johnson and the tireless Lewis Grabban confirmed Norwich’s premier status locally.
The very fact that they could afford to have top scorer Cameron Jerome on the bench spoke volumes for the depth and the quality of the squad at Neil’s disposal – riches that can make all the difference at the business end of a season.
Match such ability with the attitude that the club’s young manager appears to have already instilled in them and the door to a swift return to the top flight is banging wide open.
Particularly given the fact that the likes of Nottingham Forest, Derby and Middlesbrough have all got to follow Ipswich to Carrow Road before the end of the season.
Today’s success left City just one point shy of that second automatic promotion place. Or, in athletic terms, tight on the shoulder of the leaders and ready, willing and seemingly very able to kick on for the finishing line and the ever greater TV riches that lie beyond.
“We’re in a very strong position but ultimately we’ve won nothing,” said Neil, as City’s thoughts now turn to the home clash with Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night.
“We need to make sure that we guard against complacency and all the hard work that we have done to get ourselves here, we’ve got to maintain that.
“Because there’s no point being where we are at the moment with 12 games left if we take our foot off the gas,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“We’ve got to push on – and we’ve got to even improve on what we have done in the last six games.”
Which will be quite a feat. Given that they have won each of those said six games.
Wolves at home probably – for now – remains the most complete performance of the Neil reign, even if today’s result will be the most satisfying for the locals.
The one blot on his copy-book is, of course, the home defeat by Brentford and Stephen Whittaker’s ill-starred foray into centre midfield.
Given the abundance of midfield riches now at Neil’s disposal following his dip into the January transfer window and the ’emergency’ loan options thereafter, the former Rangers full-back is likely to stay firmly put as the manager ponders his alternatives in mid-week given Alexander Tettey’s one-match ban.
What is, however, of greater interest is the sea change in public opinion that Neil has seen between Brentford at home and this weekend’s derby success.
Fresh down from Scotland, he could do no right. Fresh from this weekend’s latest success and he can do no wrong.
“We’re doing well; we’re winning games; we’re playing well. And we just want to try and maintain our standards,” he said.
“But I’m pleased for the fans that we managed to win today’s game. I think derbies, in particular, are for the fans and you could hear that they were in great voice today.”
Which isn’t always the case. With certain reason, the doubters held sway at home to Brentford and – as ever – players and supporters would feed off each other.
“That’s the most pleasing thing for me.
“I’ve sensed a real change in the games at home. Certainly since one of the first games I had at home when there were a few boos.”
The one alarm bell that did ring before the end of today’s proceedings was the sight of top scorer Cameron Jerome disappearing before the end with injury.
Once again, the footballing fates appear to be smiling on Neil as he revealed that his exit was purely ‘precautionary’ and he may yet be in contention for the Latics game.
“Now we’ve had a look at it, it doesn’t look as bad as we first thought,” he said.