Winners & Losers: The Football League's opening weekend
Who stood up and was counted and who fell apart under the pressure of football's glorious return?
Summer is, for all but the penguins amongst us, the seasonal highlight of the year. Long summer evenings, glorious sunshine and temperatures to thaw the vestiges of even the most brutal winter freeze.
Yet, despite the cathartic joy it undoubtedly provokes, summer is akin to cupcakes without any sugar; there is something missing.
In a blaze of frenetic joy, football burst back onto our screens this weekend as, up and down the country, masculinity expelled an unbridled yelp of pleasure.
Sun, barbecue, beer and football. This finally, is summer.
With a full program from the Championship down to League 2, 72 clubs got their 2013/14 season underway.
The new boys, the old boys, the expectation, the hope. For the only time this year it was a level playing field. Everyone had a chance to leave their mark, to plough their own furrow and to begin a journey that would make 2013/14 the season they would be remembered for.
Here we look at the runners and fallers from this seasons inaugural weekend.
Newport County - League new boys Newport, enjoying their first foray into the football league since their expulsion in 1988 were hopeful of a strong start. Playing against Accrington Stanley, an established fourth tier side, County were set for a stern test.
Newport opened the scoring, with Harry Worley’s goal their first football league strike since April 1988. The euphoric scenes dragged Newport to new heights and by the final whistle the 4-1 scoreline reverberated through the football league; Newport County are back.
For a league that sits just one promotion from the most lucrative division in world football, there is an expectation, a profile that many of its competitors tend to fit. Ex-Premier League clubs with modern stadiums, where 30,000 fans can watch a game with room to spare. QPR, Wigan, Reading, Nottingham Forest, Leicester, Leeds; big clubs with huge fan-bases and squads littered with Premier League-calibre talent. Yeovil therefore are a misnomer, an outlier from the opulence of the rest of the division.
Modest Huish Park only seats 5,000, with a 9,000 stadium capacity. The team, who have not spent a single penny this off-season, are bereft of the household names of many of their competitors. Yet, an advert for unity and the power of team spirit Yeovil opened their most prestigious league campaign to date with a 1-0 victory at a fancied Millwall side.
Following their relegation from the top tier after an admirable, but perpetual fight to avoid the drop over the past eight years, Wigan return to the second tier of English football.
Much was made of their fellow relegated sides chances of an immediate return, with the financial muscle of Reading and QPR hotly tipped. Yet it is Wigan who top the league on the opening weekend after an emphatic 4-0 away victory over Barnsley.
New manager Owen Coyle has managed to keep the most of Wigan’s promising young talent, supplementing it with a number of shrewd signings, to create what could be the team to watch this year.
Grabban, once of Crystal Palace and Millwall, was embarking on his first Championship campaign since leaving the Lions in 2011. The pacy striker, a regular for the Cherries last term could not have wished for a better start as his goals propelled the new boys past rivals Charlton.
Grabban’s second goal, a strong contender for goal of the month, edged Bournemouth to a 2-1 win after Yann Kermogant’s stunning acrobatic volley had cancelled out his opener.
The double also means that the South coast hitman currently leads the coveted Championship scoring chart.
The woes of Portsmouth draw empathy from all quarters of the football League (Southampton aside). FA Cup winners just five years ago, the sad plummet of the once great side gripped by financial ruin after years of mis-ownership has been brutally swift. Now plying their trade in their lowest ever position, in the final tier of the League pyramid, relegation this year would mean Portsmouth would drop out of the football league all together.
Hope, at least in the hearts of football fans, springs eternal, and so it was with belief that 18,000 (the highest ever League 2 attendance), packed Fratton Park for Pompey’s league opener against Oxford. A humbling 4-1 home defeat means this could be a long season for the clubs long suffering fans.
Plucked for relative obscurity at Tranmere, Jennings was purchased by European Heavyweights Bayern Munich back in 2011. Failing to make a first team appearance for the Bavarians, however, Jennings was deemed expendable this summer and Barnsley brought the 20-year-old back to England.
Coming on as a substitute for his return to English football good things were expected of Barnsley’s highest profile recruit. One awful lunge later and Jennings debut came to an inauspicious end, less than ten minutes after it began.
Coventry City - Docked 10 points by the Football League after going into administration back in March, Coventry’s week didn’t start too well.
20 minutes into the league opener and things had got even worse as Crawley romped into a two goal lead.
Yet, with admirable fighting spirit, goals from Callum Wilson and Frank Moussa had Coventry level with just eight minutes of regulation time to play. Coventry fans dared to hope that the unlikely turnaround could be achieved for all of two minutes, before Mike Jones broke Coventry hearts at the end of a week they would probably like to forget.
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