Aston Villa got off to a poor start to their life in the Championship yesterday, falling 1-0 away to Sheffield Wednesday after a Pierluigi Gollini error, but you already knew that.
Luckily for the Villans though, they were far from the only side tipped for a promotion push to drop points on the opening weekend. We’ll take look at what happened around the league on Matchday 1…
Nottingham Forest 4, Burton Albion 3
So this was far from the match I had the closest eye on this weekend, but it was the televised 3 p.m. kickoff here in the States, and it made for great viewing. The storyline coming in was Burton’s second-tier debut, but after 90 minutes, it shifted to what was quite simply the best match of the weekend.
Britt Assombalonga, a man whose name we should hear all season, opened the scoring for Forest on 23 minutes, but it was Nigel Clough’s Albion side that went ahead just seven minutes later, with quick-fire goals from Lucas Akins and Lloyd Dyer making the margin 2-1. Forest, however, struck either side of halftime to retake the lead — the latter goal a hilarious example of a terrible set piece routine turning into a goal — before Assomgablonga got his brace to make it 4-2 in the 77th. A late goal in stoppage time wasn’t enough for the Brewers to come away with a famous result.
But on the whole, Burton supporters have to be pleased with the performance their side turned in Saturday. They weren’t out of their depth in the slightest, which should be promising.
Fulham 1, Newcastle United 0
For most, the season’s curtain-raiser was also the most intriguing match of the opening weekend, and it produced a bit of a surprise on the scoreline, with Matt Smith heading home on a corner just before halftime to give the Cottagers the game’s only goal.
Newcastle didn’t necessarily look poor in the loss, but they also didn’t necessarily look great in it either. Unlike Villa fans, I think plenty of Magpies supporters harboured ideas that this division would be a walk in the park for them, and that simply won’t be the case. On the pitch, each side had penalty appeals turned down — Newcastle really should have had at least one — but the title favourites failed to get a point on the opening weekend, too. Fulham aren’t that good, so this was a good result for the Claret and Blues.
Derby County 0, Brighton & Hove Albion 0
While Villa had play-off finalists Wednesday on the opening weekend, the two play-off semifinalists met to open the season in Derbyshire, with nothing at the end of the day to separate the promotion contenders. The Rams were the better side in the opening 45 minutes, but it was the visiting Seagulls that had the run of the play in the second half, with Glenn Murray squandering an opportunity on 71 minutes to give his side the lead.
Former Villan Darren Bent had the last chance to win the match, with a header in stoppage time, but he couldn’t convert, leaving the scoreline at 0-0, a positive one for Villa.
Blackburn Rovers 1, Norwich City 4
Where Villa and Newcastle struggled this week, the Canaries had no issues with their opening fixture, thrashing Rovers by a three-goal margin away from home. Jacob Murphy scored his first goal for Norwich 12 minutes in, and by the 25th minute, it was 3-0 thanks to Wes Hoolahan and Cameron Jerome getting on the scoreline. Steven Naismith made it 4-0 in the second half before Blackburn pulled back a consolation to set the final count.
More than anything, it’s a reminder of why Norwich really may be the side best suited to make an immediate Premier League return. They’ve kept a lot of the key players in their squad that won promotion two years ago, and have more talent than most sides in this division. Think of them as an overlooked baseball team full of so-called “4A” guys. They’re really not good enough in the top flight, but they’ll boss this division.
Both sides had their chances at St. Andrew’s, but neither found the breakthrough as Birmingham drew Cardiff 0-0.
Bristol City won 2-1 at home over promoted Wigan Athletic to open their season, with a dramatic last-minute, deflected goal off the foot of Bobby Reid providing the hosts with a win after they trailed 1-0 at halftime.
Huddersfield loanee Elias Kachunga, in England from the Bundesliga’s Ingolstadt, opened the scoring as the Terriers, Villa’s third opponent of the league season, notched a deserved 2-1 home win against Brentford on the opening day.
Despite not making the Ipswich XI on Saturday, Grant Ward had himself quite a debut at Portman Road, scoring a second-half hat trick to lead the Tractor Boys to a 4-2 triumph over Barnsley, who were promoted last year through the League One play-off.
At the Madjeski Stadium in Reading, it was yet another debutant making his mark known on proceedings, as John Swift scored the game’s only goal, with the Royals defeating Preston North End 1-0.
Ten-man Wolves, a popular pick to be near the top end this year, could only manage a 2-2 draw away to Rotherham to open their campaign.
Queens Park Rangers used a scrappy fourth-minute goal to pull ahead of Leeds United early, and scored twice in the final 20 minutes to secure a comfortable 3-0 win at Loftus Road. Rangers, after suffering relegation from the Premier League in 2015, looked good to start this season. Could a promotion push be in the cards for them after a disappointing 2015/16 season?
Next week’s best fixture
Of the seven sides with the best promotion odds this term, just two won this week: Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday. That’s the Saturday evening fixture next week from Carrow Road, and it’s the one that should draw the most attention from Championship supporters. If there’s a winner, they’ll leave Matchday 2 with increased expectations of an automatic promotion spot.