The English top flight season gets underway
The Barclays Premier League is less than a week away and the world just cannot wait for the ten month long football extravaganza to get underway at White Hart Lane when Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham take on Roberto Mancini’s big spending Manchester City.
But for now let us concentrate on the second tier of English football or the Championship. This tier of English football may not get a high level of attention but the Championship produces a fine brand of football as teams jostle for three Premier League places that are on offer in the event of promotion. TV revenues are high, particularly for a four-team end of season playoff for a single Premier League place.
Newly promoted Norwich City and Watford dished out an entertaining Championship curtain raiser on Friday night at Carrow Road, with the home side suffering a heartbreaking 3-2 loss at the hands of the Londoners. The Canaries were undone by an excellent young and energetic Watford side for whom Man of the match Danny Graham scored twice and John Eustace getting the other. Norwich were all about passion and commitment yet their League-One style defending was deservedly punished by Malky Mackay’s side. Andrew Crofts and Michael Nelson got on the scoreboard for the home side.
Reading were shocked 2-1 by Scunthorpe United at the Madejski Stadium. United stunned the former Premier League’ers by opening the scoring in the ninth minute through Gary Thompson only for Reading’s Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson to equalize in the twenty sixth minute. Just when the home fans were getting frustrated, Scunthorpe’s Rob Jones rubbed salt into wound by heading in the winner just on the hour mark. A stark reminder to Brian McDermott’s ambitious side that things won’t be easy this season.
Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town stunned promotion favourites Middlesborough 3-1 at the Riverside stadium after having to come from behind. Gordon Strachan’s side took an early lead when Scott McDonald tapped in the opener after twenty one minutes after some initial good work from Argentine international Julio Arca. But two Ipswich goals in a second half minute via Tommy Smith and Tamas Priskin turned the match on its head after 51 minutes. Jon Stead put the icing on the cake with a cool finish thirteen minutes from time and so Roy Keane has a brilliant opening day win to build on a very important season.
England keeper David James made a horrible start to his Bristol City career as the Robins were handed out a 3-0 home hammering by Championship new boys Millwall at Ashton Gate. Darren Ward, Danny Schofield and Paul Robinson were the scorers for the visitors as the Lions made dream return to the Championship and hand David James and Bristol City Manager Steve Coppell a nightmare start to the season.
Chris Iwelumo made a winning debut for Premier League dropout Burnley as the lanky Scotland international headed in the only goal of the match just before the break to give Brian Laws a winning start to the season against last season’s playoff semi-finalist Nottingham Forest.
Hull City, relegated from the Premier League last season, got off to a winning start at the KC stadium against Swansea City courtesy of a stunning John Bostock 35-yard strike after twenty two minutes. Eighteen year old Bostock has been signed on loan from Tottenham Hotspur and his immediate impact at the club would have delighted Nigel Pearson who was in charge of the Tigers for the very first time. Skipper Ian Ashbee settled the match five minutes after restart pouncing on City’s keeper Dorus De Vries’ error from a corner.
Portsmouth, the last of the Premier League discards, suffered at the hands of a well organized Coventry City side at the Ricoh Arena. Pompey, who are still suffering from massive financial constraints that led to points deduction by the English FA last season, were undone by a double strike from Coventry’s Freddy Eastwood. The South Coast club, under the watchful eyes of Steve Cotterill, have already a mountain to climb this early in the season.
QPR’s loaned out men Heidar Helguson and Fitz Hall joined new signings Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt to secure a 4-0 victory over Yorkshire side Barnsley. Icelandic forward Helguson, who was on loan to Watford, was on target from the penalty spot in the first half and Hall, who spent the end of the campaign on loan at Newcastle, bundled in the fourth. In between, former Plymouth forward Mackie opened his account with a poacher like strike and Taarabt, who completed his permanent switch from Tottenham on Thursday, marked a fine show at Loftus Road by rattling in the hosts’ second spot-kick.
Crystal Palace and Leicester City produced one of the entertaining games of the afternoon as the cash-strapped London side edged out the Foxes from the Midlands 3-2 at Selhurst Park. Leicester, last season’s play-off semi-finalists, were handed out a footballing lesson in the first half as Palace raced to a 3-0 lead through Wilfred Zaha, Darren Ambrose and Alan Lee. The second half was dominated by Leicester as Paulo Sousa’s side made it an enthralling affair as goals from Andy King and DJ Campbell nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.
Doncaster Rovers pulled off a surprising 2-0 win over Darren Ferguson’s watseful Preston Northend at Deepdale, one of many unexpected scorelines on the first Saturday of a new Championship season. The two goals came in the first twenty minutes courtesy of James O’Connor and James Hayter while Doncaster’s veteran keeper Neil Sullivan produced a string of fine saves to deny the home side any chance of a comeback.
In the day’s late kick-off, Derby County spoiled Leeds United’s return to the Championship by producing a professional performance away from home at Elland Road. Rob Hulse, a former Leeds hero, opened the scoring after thirteen minutes only for Luciano Becchio to level the tie three minutes later. It was a Kris Commons penalty just before the half hour mark that proved to be the winner and send Nigel Clough’s side home happy. The first half produced all the three goals and the match was played at a frenetic pace with chances galore for both the sides. Yet the team from the East Midlands proved to be too much for the Yorkshire side and Kasper Schmeichel was the home side’s man of the match with some breathtaking performance between the sticks. Leeds might have lost the opening match of the season but the players showed enough passion and motivation to suggest that happier times are not far away for the once mighty Yorkshire side.
All the attention will turn towards the Premier League next week but Championships fans can be rest assured that SportsKeeda will always find space to report on this very exciting division of English football.