County Durham-born Neal won a Division Two championship medal and a League Cup winners' medal in the first-ever competition.
After a spell with Southend he moved into management at Wrexham. He took the Welsh club into the third division and to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup.
When he was persuaded to join Boro, Neal joined up with his new charges in Australia on their world tour. He soon began dismantling the team he inherited, selling Graeme Souness, David Mills, Stuart Boam and Stan Cummins.
Unlike previous manager Jack Charlton he proved adventurous in the transfer market, replacing the old guard with Billy Ashcroft, John Mahoney, Micky Burns, Terry Cochrane, Bosco Jancovic, Jim Stewart and record buy Irving Nattrass.
But it was the club's transfer policy that eventually proved his downfall and when he left after disagreeing with the board's decision to sell Craig Johnston to Liverpool. The club remained in the top division throughout Neal's tenure in charge, and clocked up a memorable 7-2 win against Chelsea in 1978.
Chelsea offered him the Stamford Bridge hotseat in place of World Cup hero Geoff Hurst. He took the London club back into the first division in 1983-84 but after undergoing heart surgery in 1986 he was replaced by John Hollins.