Well, that was about as predictable as could have been expected, wasn’t it? Chelsea, the pan-European footballer hoovers, brushed Manchester City aside with the sort of consideration that most people would give to an irritating insect, whilst Manchester United did a similar job against Fulham, although Fulham had a certain degree of culpability here, through defending in a thoroughly wretched manner. The sort of performance that indicates a season of struggle ahead. Elsewhere in the Premiership, the results were somewhat less predictable. Liverpool and Arsenal were fortunate to get a point against Sheffield United and Aston Villa respectively, Tottenham were dismal against Bolton, and Portsmouth were excellent in beating Blackburn Rovers at a canter. Result of the day though, I suppose, goes to Reading who, having made no major changes to their squad over the summer, came from two goals down to beat Middlesbrough at the Madejski Stadium. I’m not enormously keen on Reading, primarily because their chairman named their new ground after himself, but they seem pretty well equipped for the Premiership, although they’re unlikely to find themselves playing against another team that’s as lethargically charitable as Gareth Southgates’ Hapless Middlesbrough (I’m considering copyrighting that phrase) again this season. Well, at least until they play Watford.
In The Championship, Birmingham and Cardiff are the early pace-setters. Birmingham beat Crystal Palace 2-1 in one of those matches that ITV can almost fool themselves into thinking is just as big a match as a Premiership, whilst Cardiff won impressively at Leeds. The match at Elland Road ended with Cardiff (and, of course, former Leeds) chairman Peter Ridsdale claiming to have been banned for life from Leeds’ ground. Leeds wouldn’t be in half the pickle they find themselves in now if they’d done this before he started spending tens of millions of pounds that he didn’t have a few years back. Meanwhile, things appear to be going from bad to worse for Niall Quinn at Sunderland, who found themselves on the end of a thrashing at Southend. You had to admire Quinn though, who, in his post-match interview, admitted that most of his team simply “aren’t good enough”. All very laudable, but one would have to wonder what it’ll do for their confidence, and the team he’s got is, well, all he’s got until he brings some new players in.
The bottom two divisions are continuing to prove to be far more interesting. In Division Three, Nottingham Forest continued their 100% record in coming from behind to beat Brighton. For the fourth match in a row, they were awarded a penalty – the difference being that this time they actually managed to score it rather than missing it. Close on their heels come Port Vale, who also made it four in a row with a 3-2 win against Chesterfield at Vale Park. Leon Constantine, the Port Vale stiker, looked particularly impressive. One to watch for the future there, I think. Now: what would it take for Crewe to sack Dario Gradi? Obviously it’s a bit early in the season to be discussing the matter seriously, but Crewe appear to be somewhat in the doldrums after a 3-0 defeat at home to Bradford. At the bottom, Rotherham are showing an unexpected fighting instinct. Their win against Scunthorpe yesterday moved them onto -4 points puts them just six behind Crewe. Swindon continue to lead Division Three, with Dennis Wise’s team winning their fourth match in a row, whilst rumours continue to abound that the self-styled “Guvnor”, Paul Ince, is on the verge of signing for them. The deeply unloveable MK Dons continued their good start by beating the seemingly eternally under-achieving Bristol Rovers. Didn’t Bristol Rovers used to be quite good? At the bottom, my tips for the drop, Bury and Stockport, doubled their points tally for the the season on Friday night, when Stockport drew 1-1 against Accrington Stanley. Poor old Bury, though, took a 3-0 walloping at Wycombe. How long before they’ll be playing their tenants, FC United of Manchester, in the League, I wonder?
In the Conference, Aldershot turned into Brazil for twenty minutes to rush into a 5-1 lead at St Albans, before The Saints rallied to pull it back to 5-3. Like I’ve said on here before, it’s going to be a long, hard season. Oxford and Weymouth, managed by the deeply unloveable Gary Hill (those of you with longish memories may remember Dagenham striker Mark Stein requesting a cancellation of his contract because of Hill’s racism), are clear at the top, though Oxford were apparently fortunate to win at Burton on Friday night. At the foot of the table, the other team with a 100% record are Crawley Town, who are up to -1 points after coming from behind to win at Stevenage. Stevenage, with three losses in three matches, are just a point above them now.
And on to Scotland. The re-establishment of the Old Firm Oligarchy seems likely after Ragners beat Hearts 2-0 at Ibrox, though Celtic are continuing to look mediocre. A 1-1 draw at Inverness this afternoon blew their chances of going top of the SPL for another few days at least. In the SPL at the moment, everyone seems to be beating everyone else – the top seven are separated by just 2 points. The exceptions to this are the dismal Motherwell, who were beaten for the fourth time in a row at Hibernian. Gretna, who were hopelessly found out in the UEFA Cup a couple of weeks ago against Derry City, seem to have recovered some of their composure, and lead the table from Livingston, whilst Cowdenbeath slipped up in the Second Division to lose the lead of the league by losing at home to Brechin City. The less said about East Strilingshire, the better. They’re down to second from bottom in Division Three already, and the only team below them are Elgin City, the team that they beat on the opening day of the season.
Finally, a quick word about the FA Cup, because, just 97 days after last season’s final in Cardiff, the 2006/2007 competition got under way. Unfortunately, the clubs concerned don’t seem to be particularly bothered about reporting their results through to the FA, because the results section for this weekend’s results still aren’t up on the FA website. Congratulations, though, to Oxhey Jets, Marske United, Jarrow Roofing Boldon CA, Wootton Blue Cross and St Blazey, who managed to win their matches and phone their results through to Soho Square. The next round is on September 2nd. I will try and put together some sort of preview. High excitement indeed.