The Premier League In Short: Opening Day Blues
The more something is hyped, the more difficult it will be for that thing to live up to said hype. Even allowing for the excesses if the media over the last couple of weeks or so, though, the new Premier League season started with a faintly ridiculous raspberry noise rather than a bang. Five of the eight matches played ended in draws, all of which made the league table look even more ridiculous than it usually does at this stage of the season. This air of absurdity made it onto Match Of The Day on both Saturday and Sunday nights – it didn’t prevent both programmes from taking a few moments to pore over it, though.
There will be two clubs whose supporters may have awoken this morning with a feeling of, “stop the world, I want to get off” – those of Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Thaw party balloons could almost visibly be heard deflating at Loftus Road, where Bolton’s 4-0 win against Queens Park Rangers said as much about the troubled summer that the Championship champions – as it were – as it did about the continuing steady progress that Bolton have made under Owen Coyle. They are top of the first Premier League table of the season.
Wolves, meanwhile, also won away from home, a 2-1 win at Ewood Park, which they managed after going a goal behind. It was exactly the sort of results that Wolves needed – away form was their Achilles heel last season, and significant improvement away from Molineux is precisely what they ate going to need if they are to avoid another brush with the relegation trap door again this season. Blackburn, meanwhile, merely reminded us of how much work they have to do in order to keep their heads above water. Steve Kean remains, unsurprisingly, the bookmakers’ favourite to become the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season.
Manchester United were the only other Premier League team to win at the weekend, but their 2-1 win at West Bromwich Albion was laborious, both on the pitch, where a heavily deflected Ashley Young cross thirteen minutes from time won his team a game that they had scarcely previously looked imperious in, and away from it, where the BBC’s post-match interview with Terry Phelan (yes, Alex Ferguson still isn’t talking to the BBC) seemed as interested in Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant as anything else. Match Of The Day 2 then followed this up with something even more excruciating, a montage of badly-photoshopped haircuts super-imposed onto bald players, managers and – of course, hyuk hyuk – Alan Shearer. Still Dion Dublin seemed pretty pleased with his, which was nice.
The others that would consider themselves pretenders to Manchester United’s throne had disappointing weekends, to some extent. Liverpool at least managed to score on Saturday, at home against Sunderland, but they were still pegged back to a 1-1 draw at Anfield. It was one of those days for Liverpool. Luis Suarez blazed a penalty over the crossbar and Andy Carroll had a goal disallowed for what may or may not have been a shove in the back on a defender. Still, at least they scored, which was more than Chelsea or Arsenal could manage between them. Chelsea’s goalless draw at Stoke was as attrition as one might have expected, though Chelsea did at least improve as the game went on, and escaping from The Britannia Stadium with a point may come to be considered an point gained rather than two dropped for most this season.
Arsenal’s goalless draw at Newcastle United, meanwhile, was a tabloid headline writers. Joey Barton, sporting a hair-cut which indicates that he isn’t merely reading George Orwell at the moment, became involved in an altercation with Arsenal’s new striker Gervinho, which led to Barton falling like a sack of potatoes following the lightest of cheek slaps and a red card being brandished. It was the highlight of an otherwise torpid afternoon at St James Park, on a weekend during which it rather felt as if we didn’t learn very much at all about any the teams playing.
The other two matches played out at the weekend also ended in draws. The Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez might have had pause to consider the £4m that his club has spent on Ali Al Habsi after the goalkeeper made a hash of a cross and presented Norwich with their first Premier League goal and, subsequently, their first Premier League point of the season at The DW Stadium, a result that was probably a better one for the visitors than it was for the home side. Fulham and Aston Villa also managed a draw – albeit with Villa having a goal disallowed – with Shay Given being the star of a reasonably drab show at Craven Cottage. Still, at least they managed to get on the pitch, which is more than Spurs and Everton could manage after their match was called off on account of the rioting in London at the start of last week.
Briefly, then, the top Premier League table has a look of the late 1950s about it. It probably won’t last, of course, but these were important wins for Bolton and Wolves. The thirty-eight match Premier League season leaves slim room for errors, and three points away from home on the opening day of the season is a handy return by anybody’s reckoning. If anything, though, the opening day of this Premier League season looked very much like last season. Manchester United did just enough, their competitors not quite enough and the rest largely looked like much of a muchness. There’s all to play for yet, though.
You can follow twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.