Football League Review: Aston Villa’s Slow Motion Replay
It says something for the condition of the club in recent years that the extent to which Aston Villa were swept aside by Cardiff City yesterday afternoon barely even merited that many headlines outside the cities of Cardiff and Birmingham the following day. This time last year, Aston Villa were preparing for their first season outside of the top flight in a quarter of a century with the burden of being pre-season favourites weighing heavily around their neck. Despite having finished hopelessly adrift of the rest at the foot of the Premier League in 2016, new owners and a raft of new players had lifted spirits.
This summer has the hint of history repeating itself about it, at Villa Park. During the summer, the most high profile transfer outside of the Premier League took John Terry there from Chelsea. Hubris, thy name is Tony Xia. Last Saturday, however, Steve Bruce’s team were sluggish – if simultaeously a little unlucky – in being held to a draw by Hull City. A narrow win at Colchester United in the League Cup in midweek was a little light relief, but yesterday afternoon at The Cardiff City Stadium, they were swept aside with a confident display of attacking football by a Cardiff City team that has now won two out of two already this season. Last season, Villa recovered, but they could never be considered play-off contenders on account of their very slow start to the season. One cannot help but wonder whether the same thing could be set to happen again, this time around.
A short distance across the West Midlands, meanwhile, another Chinese dalliance with the region’s football continues afoot. Wolverhampton Wanderers raised eyebrows with their summer spending, and also for the close involvement of super-agent Jorge Mendes. The feeling that this could be an experiment that ends in tears persists, but at least Wolves supporters can enjoy the performances of their team at the moment. Wolves have had what looked like a tricky start to the season before a ball was kicked, but have emerged from their first two matches of the season with six points out of six and hopes growing that a shot at a place in the Premier League could be on the cards. Last weekend, they beat freshly-relegated Middlesbrough by a goal to nil, and yesterday a trip to Derby County resulted in a two-nil win, with goals coming courtesy of Barry Douglas and Ivan Cavaleiro.
Joining Cardiff and Wolves at the top of a league table of little to no consequence at present are Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town. Forest have a habit of being involved in matches that finish four-three, and yesterday they won by that margin at Brentford despite going a goal down early on. Ipswich Town, meanwhile, started the season with a cloud hanging over their head, but they also maintained their one hundred percent record with a two-one win at Barnsley, with David McGoldrick and Martyn Waghorn grabbing their goals after the home side had taken an early lead.
What, though, of the relegated clubs? Well, Sunderland travel to Norwich City for their second league match of the season this afternoon, but Hull City and Middlesbrough were both in action yesterday. Hull had a comfortable four-one win against Burton Albion, who are starting to look as though as they may have a Difficult Second Season on their hands, whilst Middlesbrough picked up their first points of the new season with a slightly fortunate one-nil win against Sheffield United. The other two clubs promoted from League One, meanwhile, played each other at The New Den, with Millwall and Bolton Wanderers picking up a point apiece from a one-all draw.
Things were considerably more eventful at St Andrews, where Birmingham City beat Bristol City by two goals to one despite having gone a goal down within a minute of the start of the game. Elsewhere it was draws all the way. Leeds United had started well at Bolton last weekend but couldn’t break down an obstinate Preston North End team in a goalless draw at Elland Road, Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers cancelled each other out at Hillsborough, and Reading and Fulham doinf the same at The Madjeski Stadium. There’s been little to suggest that the Championship will be anytwhing but very tight again this season.
One result in League One stood out like a sore thumb at the end of yesterday, Blackburn Rovers’ opening day of the season defeat at Southend United might otherwise have been written off as an aberration, but yesterday afternoon the convincing nature of Doncaster Rovers’ three-one win at Ewood Park hinted at the extent of work required to be carried out to the team there. Expect a further winter of discontent in that particular corner of Lancashire. The early pace-setters. however, are the upwardly-mobile Oxford United, who brushed aside Portsmouth by three goals to nil, Peterborough United, Fleetwood Town and Shrewsbury Town.
Peterborough were one of the big winners of the day, by four goals to one at Bristol Rovers, but they weren’t the biggest winners of the days. That honour fell to Rotherham United, who put five goals past Southend United without reply. It was a mixed day for the other clubs at which there’s a chance of further unhappiness in the stands next season. Blackpool won by a goal to nil, although the extent to which the supporters remain out of love with the owners may be best summed up by the fact that the attendance at Bloomfield Road was less than three and a half thousand. There was no such luck, however, for Charlton Athletic, beaten by two goals to nil at Plymouth Argyle.
Last weekend, of course, the headlines across the entire Football League’s opening day fixtures were written by Luton Town and Yeovil Town after the former but eight goals past the latter. By the end of the second round of fixtures, however, they’re level on points – if not goal difference – after Yeovil beat Accrington Stanley and Luton fell to a late goal at Barnet. It’s only taken two matches for there to only be one side left with a one hundred per cent record, and that team is Coventry City, who won by two goals to nil at Grimsby Town. Lincoln City’s first home match back in the Football League ended with a one-all draw against Morecambe, but Forest Green Rovers were beaten by two goals to nil at Mansfield Town.
At the bottom of the table after two matches, meanwhile, three clubs have yet to record a single point. Cambridge United, who slowly last season, lost at home by the odd goal in three against Carlisle United, Crawley Town, who were predicted to find things difficult this season, were beaten by a goal to nil at Cheltenham Town, and at the bottom of the pile after two matches are Chesterfield, who ended last season at the bottom of League One. They were beaten by two goals nil at Notts County. It’s early days yet, but when coupled with suggestions of financial difficulties following the resignation of former chairman Dave Allen in November of last year. Chesterfield’s form this season could give cause for concern.
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