That Was The Weekend That Was: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
It only too ninety minutes for the booing to start again, of course. As Arsenal were jeered from the pitch at The Emirates Stadium after having been handed their backsides on a plate by Aston Villa, the whole world was happy to chime in on the subject of how terrible things are at The Emirates Stadium this summer with, at the time of writing, not one single £50m player having been signed by the club. But enough about Arsenal, eh? What about Aston Villa? After all, they it was their performance that was amongst the best of the weekend by anybody, a justification of a policy of bringing through younger players where possible which carries, especially when we consider the extent to which the club struggled for so much of last season. The voices praising Aston Villa for a job outstandingly done have, however, have largely been drowned out by the sneering at, laughing at and condemnation of the team that was beaten on Saturday afternoon.
Villa’s well-deserved lead at the top of the Premier League lasted, of course, for less than three hours. If the match between Swansea City and Manchester United had been anticipated for anything, it had been anticipated with a sense of glee by those who expect David Moyes to fail as the successor to Alex Ferguson. So routine, however, was United’s win at Swansea on Saturday evening that schadenfreudists were left with mere crumbs of comfort, such as the apparently still popular opinion that this team is still over-dependent upon the talents of Robin Van Persie. We won’t know whether there is any truth in this until Van Persie sustains anything like a sustained injury, but there was enough going on elsewhere for few to be surprised by the team – basically the same team – that won last year’s Premier League at a canter winning their opening match in very much the same manner.
This being the first weekend of the Premier League season, of course, the sound of pre-season optimism balloons swiftly deflating was audible left, right and centre. It was at its loudest in the vicinity of the three newly-promoted clubs, who all lost, all failed to score, and who managed just six shots between them. Of course, early season doom and gloom should be tempered by the fact that, in the case of Hull City and Crystal Palace, the opposition at the weekend was from the gilded end of the Premier League spectrum. Chelsea brushed Hull City aside with the casual insouciance that we might have expected, but Crystal Palace showed a little fight against Tottenham Hotspur and were only beaten by virtue of a second half penalty from new record signing Roberto Soldado which, predictably enough, manager Ian Holloway complained about after the match. The award of the kick might have had an element of “six of one, half a dozen of the other” about it, but it’s difficult to begrudge it to Spurs, who previously hadn’t been awarded a penalty kick since the reign of Queen Victoria, apparently.
Elsewhere, there was plenty of huffing and puffing going on in the Premier League at the weekend. Liverpool were both impressive and a little doughy in squeaking past Stoke City, whilst all the shouting and gesturing in the world couldn’t prevent Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland from slipping to a tame single goal home defeat at the hands of Fulham. The other team to feel as if they had a successful opening weekend were Southampton, for whom an opening day win from a tricky looking match away to West Bromwich Albion coupled with the signing of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo from Roma for £15m today must make for a very satisfied feeling to be hanging over St Mary’s Stadium as the week begins.
In the Football League, meanwhile, the tables are starting to look a little – not much, but a little – more meaningful than they were before. Nottingham Forest and Millwall are the only clubs in the Championship with a one hundred per cent record, Forest with three wins from three and Millwall with three defeats from three. One club at which discontentment levels are likely to rise again, meanwhile, is Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn, who only pulled clear of the relegation places in this division last season with a handful of matches left to play, have now managed just one point from their first three matches of this season after a two goal defeat at Doncaster Rovers on Friday night. They may have avoided the fate of Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of last season, but the feeling that the Venkys ownership of this club is slowly strangling it continues to persist.
Leyton Orient, who only finished narrowly outside of the play-off places in League One last season but have been notoriously sluggish starters in recent years, continue to stand tall at the top of the table with three wins from three, with the freshly relegated Peterborough United hanging on behind them. At the other end of the table, meanwhile, Coventry City are “up” to minus four points after thrashing Carlisle United by four goals to nil on Saturday. It will be interesting to see what sort of effect the team’s form will have on the protests against the club’s exile in Northampton. We note that next weekend the Coventry City LFC team will be playing at The Ricoh Arena, so, for the second time in a row, the people of Coventry will have a team to watch in their home town, even if it’s not the club that is supposed to play there. Carlisle United, meanwhile, have now scored one goal and conceded thirteen in their three matches in the league so far this season. They did, however, score three times against Blackburn Rovers and knocked them out of the League Cup. What this says about both clubs is a matter for conjecture.
Finally, in League Two, a giant stirs. Portsmouth’s start to the season, a home thrashing on the opening day and a draw at Accrington last week, had given the impression that they might even find League Two as difficult as other divisions in previous years. On Saturday, however, they cruised to a comfortable three-nil win against Morecambe in a match watched by a crowd of more than fourteen and a half thousand people. A significant step in the right direction. At the top of the table, though, sit Oxford United and Southend United, who both still have one hundred per cent records, while it was a good weekend for the newly-promoted clubs, with last season’s Football Conference champions Mansfield Town picking up their first league win of the season at Wycombe Wanderers, whilst Newport County made it two wins from three with a single goal win against Bristol Rovers at Rodney Parade. There remains, however, a long way to go and the feeling remains that we’re not quite out of the pre-season just yet.
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