There was something reassuring about opening the papers in the pub yesterday afternoon to see three divisions’ worth of Football League results tucked away in the sports pages. Normal service has been resumed. This week, Premiership predictions, Nationwide Conference predictions, my favourite football kits ever and, ermmm, something else that I haven’t decided upon yet, but today I thought I’d just take a bit of a look back over the last weekend’s action.
When I say “action”, I use the phrase figuratively, because there wasn’t a massive amount in the way of excitement going on south of the border. I got strangely sucked into watching Derby County get a well-deserved 2-2 with Southampton. It was the sort of result that really did neither team any favours, and, given the way he was released from his duties at Pride Park, I was expecting rather more George Burley-related fireworks, but it was nice to see Paul Peschisolido roll back the years with a late equalizer. He’s one of the few remaining professional footballers older than me, so there’s hope for me yet. Elsewhere in the First Division, Sunderland proved my pre-season prediction correct by contriving to throw away a one goal lead against Coventry City, and John Hartson (pictured above, using Eyal Bervokic’s head as a training ball for West Ham United several years ago) lifted West Bromwich Albion out of their pre-season torpor with a brace against Hull City.
ITV’s coverage of The Football League got off to a predictably disappointing start. The featured match was Birmingham City vs Colchester United (not as one-sided as one might have thought), so I guess we can look forward to a lot of Birmingham City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United this season. It’s a pity, because there is strength in depth in the First Division (consider the names: as well as the above, we also have Wolverhampton Wanderers, Derby County, Southampton, Coventry City, Norwich City, Ipswich Town and Crystal Palace), and the Second and Third Divisions could well be very tight too. I somehow doubt that we’ll see too much from the top of those divisions this season. I hope that they don’t just feature last season’s relegated clubs. There are 72 Football League clubs, and at least some of them would be desperate for so much as the meagre amount of cash that ITV pay for showing these highlights.
Whilst England kicked off with a largely unremarkable set of matches, Scotland’s season took ac couple more unexpected twists and turns that deserve closer attention than they usually get down here. Rangers were held 2-2 at home by Dundee United, and were leap-frogged by Hearts, who (somewhat hilariously) beat Celtic 2-1 at Tynecastle Park yesterday afternoon. In truth, Celtic were largely getting what they deserved for jetting half of their first team squad off to Japan for a friendly last week (Gordon Strachan’s defence, that “only” four of the players that played in Japan started on Sunday is an early contender for the “Lamest Excuse Of The Season” award). In all honesty, it would have been something of a travesty had Hearts not won the match. They outplayed Celtic for long periods and had a perfectly good goal disallowed. As a point of interest, does it make me enormously lame to have torrented highlights of it last night? Because I was thinking that it might. The surprise packages thus far in the SPL have been St Mirren and Falkirk, with two straight wins each. They can both expect a battering at Parkhead and/or Ibrox Park in the next couple of weeks or so, I guess. In Division One, Gretna sent a clear statement of intention out, by beating Hamilton Academicals 6-0 (quick question: are Gretna still playing below their level, or are Hamilton – as I suspect they may be – rubbish?), whilst in Division Three, hold your breath… East Stirlingshire kicked off their season by beating Elgin City 2-1. After all the talk of them being too rubbish to play in the Scottish League, there would be a certain delicious irony played out if they managed to steer clear of the bottom two places this time around. There’s a long way to go though.
Back in the Premiership… the three teams that played friendlies on Sunday all lost, and two of them have cause to be concerned. Chelsea went down against (of all people) an MLS All-Star Team, and Manchester City lost 4-3 against, ummm, Kashima Antlers. The Mighty Kashima Antlers. Middlesbrough will be little happier than either of them with their performance in losing 2-0 against Feyenoord. “Best League In The World”? Peh. Finally, Liverpool appear to have got their way in the European Cup, in that they will play their “away” leg against Maccabi Haifa at a neutral venue, most likely in the Ukraine. Common sense, I suppose, prevails.