Football League: Opening weekend review

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The English season officially kicked off this weekend, with the return of the Football League. Across 36 games, #FL72 provided plenty of talking points with its usual mix of thrills, spills, industrial challenges and individual brilliance, and, most of all, no shortage of goals. Here's my review of what happened in each division.

The Championship

Relegated sides struggle to make their mark

They may be among the bookies' favourites, but there were harsh reality checks for the three teams relegated from the Premier League. Both Fulham and Norwich suffered defeats (at Ipswich and Wolves respectively), while Cardiff had to scrap for a draw at Blackburn in the season's opening match.

With successive home games up next, all three will be hoping to get their campaigns up and running, but if it wasn't obvious already this weekend serves as a timely reminder of the treacherous ground the Championship lays down and why nothing can be taken for granted.

Blackpool field eleven players, but it's not enough to stop winning Forest return for Pearce

In the week before the season began, Blackpool's recruitment went into overdrive as they foraged around for players to enable them to field a competitive team. In the end the Tangerines could only name 14 players in their matchday squad at Nottingham Forest.

The expected victory for Forest (Stuart Pearce's first game in charge at the City Ground) was wrapped up inside the first half hour courtesy of debut goals from Michail Antonio and Chris Burke, but it was far from the humiliation many would have anticipated for Jose Riga's side.

Expect more arrivals at Bloomfield Road and the challenge for Riga will be now to build a cohesive team unit before the turmoil finds them suddenly cast adrift.

Plenty of fight in the new boys

The first day of a new season at a higher level can sometimes end up being a chastening experience, but not for the three ex-League One clubs. Wolves got their return to the second tier off to flying start as David Edwards' header was enough for them to beat Norwich, while Brentford earned a point on their Championship debut at home to Charlton and Rotherham showed great resolve to hold out for 82 minutes away to title favourites Derby County.

Robins pays the price for opening day nightmare

Such is the nature of football management these days that it isn't usually too long before we have the first casualty of the season but Mark Robins' departure from Huddersfield Town less than 24 hours after the Terriers' opening game must be close to some sort of record.

Huddersfield did endure an awful start, crashing to a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Bournemouth, a match in which they conceded after just 26 seconds.

On first look it appears to be an incredible decision, and one has to believe there are deeper, underlying reasons for Robins' exit. But you do have to question that if this was in the thoughts of those in charge at the John Smiths Stadium, why Robins was allowed to go through the rehearsal and preparation for the new season rather than being sent on his way at the end of the last campaign.

As for the rest...

Ian Holloway's Millwall handed out a lesson to Championship rookie Dave Hockaday's Leeds side. The 2-0 loss at The Den was a poor result for the Elland Road club, but the manner of the performance will be of most concern to supporters and controversial owner Massimo Cellino.

There were also comfortable home wins for Watford and Middlesbrough, while Sami Hyypia's Brighton reign started with a home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan earned a point at home to Reading courtesy of James McArthur's late equaliser.

League One

Bristol City stun Clough in the lunchtime battle of the favourites

League One's first televised game saw Nigel Clough's much-fancied Sheffield United side host an improving Bristol City. Both teams are expected to compete for the promotion places, but it was Steve Cotterill's City that took the spoils courtesy of goals from Aaron Wilbraham and Wade Elliot.

The defeat shouldn't curtail United's promotion challenge, but it provides a massive boost for the Robins; with 35-year-old Wilbraham a master at this level, he should prove an inspired signing.

MK Dons shrug off early woes to complete incredible comeback

Two-nil down at home after 29 minutes is probably not the start to the season MK Dons manager Karl Robinson would have envisaged. However, that's the position his side found themselves in againts Gillingham, courtesy of goals from Cody McDonald and Danny Kedwell.

At the full time whistle, though, it was all change as three second-half goals helped MK Dons to complete a 4-2 victory – easily the comeback of the weekend. Gillingham's cause wasn't helped by scoring two of the Dons' goals themselves, but Robinson, who may be under pressure this season after a few underwhelming years at Stadium MK, will be relieved his team got the job done.

Late drama at Valley Parade

It was an eventful day for Coventry captain Reda Johnson. Two goals on debut - sandwiching a Bradford penalty he conceded – looked destined to earn the Sky Blues an away point, especially as the second arrived in the 89th minute.

However, the day would belong to Bradford and James Hanson, with the big striker also scoring twice (both headers), his second an absolute bullet in the dying moments after Johnson thought he had stolen a point for the visitors.

As for the rest...

Doncaster Rovers showed no signs of a relegation hangover as they cruised to a 3-0 win at Yeovil and Chesterfield stunned Leyton Orient with a 2-1 win at Brisbane Road. There were also wins for Peterborough, Swindon, Fleetwood and Crawley. Notts County earned a surprise point at Preston, while Walsall held Port Vale.

League Two

Hatters and Us return with a bang

Luton Town and Cambridge both return to the Football League this season after promotion from the Conference and both sides made their mark with opening day victories.

Luton made the long trip up north to Carlisle and came away with a 1-0 win and three points courtesy of Mark Cullen's well-worked goal. Under the shrewd management of John Still, expect the Hatters to be one of the surprise packages of the division.

Meanwhile, it was the stuff of Hollywood at the Abbey Stadium, where Cambridge sealed a 1-0 victory over Plymouth with the goal scored by local lad and club veteran Josh Coulson.

Favourites struggle on opening day

Bury and Portsmouth were among the bookies favourites for promotion pre-season, but both were made to struggle on the opening day.

Bury fell to a one-nil home defeat against Cheltenham thanks to teenager Joe Hanks' first senior goal; meanwhile Portsmouth had to come from behind to earn a point in Devon against struggling Exeter City.

As for the rest...

Northampton and Stevenage both managed 1-0 home wins. There were wins on the road for Southend, Wycombe, Burton and relegation favourites Morecambe. Shrewsbury and Tranmere both needed late goals to salvage a point in their draws with Wimbledon and York respectively.

Notable mentions

Team of the week

It was an excellent day for a number of teams across all divisions: Bournemouth thrashing Huddersfield away, MK Dons' comeback against Gillingham and Morecambe's away win at Dagenham.

However, Luton and Cambridge share the award for winning on their return to the Football League. Luton winning on their 500-mile round trip to Carlisle and Cambridge defeating play-off hopefuls Plymouth are my stand out team performances, as they earned both teams vital momentum after a number of years in non-league football.

Related articles

Cardiff and Blackburn share the spoils in Football League opener

Player of the week

James Hanson had a good day, scoring twice for Bradord including an injury time winner and Aaron Wilbraham played a key role in Bristol City's win at Sheffield United;

However, my player of the week is Bournemouth's Callum Wilson. The void left by Lewis Grabban's departure to Norwich City was always going to be a tough one to fill, but the former Coventry striker wasted no time in convincing Bournemouth supporters Grabban will not be missed with two goals on debut in the Cherries' 4-0 win at Huddersfield.

Wilson's dream debut was spoiled only by a late missed penalty, but he can very satisfied to have his Bournemouth career up and running in spectacular fashion.

Best goal

Tom Cairney (Blackburn Rovers), Giles Coke (Sheffield Wednesday), Chris Burke (Nottingham Forest) and Jamie Proctor (Fleetwood Town) all produced outstanding long-range finishes over the weekend, but the goal of the weekend for me was the team effort that gave Luton victory at Carlisle on their Football League return.

A slick and quick passing move that involved five different players and was finished off with a tap in by Mark Cullen would have not looked out of place a higher level. It sets a very high benchmark for the Hatters, but if they continue to play football with that accuracy and speed of movement then they will be more than a handful for their League Two rivals.

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