Great goals, last-minute winners, heroic comebacks and shock results; the NPower Championship season kicked-off in the only way it knows….with a bang! While Leeds were stunned by new boys Southampton, West Ham were downed by a last-gasp Kenny Miller strike. Premier League entertainers Blackpool made a great start at Hull and Brighton had a happy (permanent) homecoming.
These and much more as TheHardTackle picks out Top 6 highlights from the opening weekend.
1. Brighton settle into their new Amex Stadium home
After 15 years of a nomadic existence, Brighton finally have a place they can call home. Armed with Blue and White flags, the 20,000 fans who packed into the new £93m Amex Stadium, created a carnival atmosphere on what was an emotionally-charged day. An impressive Doncaster side looked to have ruined the Seagulls’ big day when star striker Billy Sharp used his predatory skills to volley Rovers ahead in the first-half. Sharp later left the field on a stretcher before Brighton substitute Will Buckley turned the game on its head.
First, he brought the scores level with a wonderfully executed low 20-yard short. With the game in stoppage time, Brighton midfielder Craig Noone cleverly worked space before his inch-perfect pass set Buckley through on goal. Opening his body, the £1m pound summer-signing from Watford, coolly bent the ball past Rovers’ keeper Gary Woods. The home fans went delirious in what was a perfect way to celebrate their new home.
2. Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s ‘Goal of the Season’ contender
The first goal of the new season came in Friday night’s Hull v Blackpool match and it could turn out to be one of the goals of the season. An entertaining game between two sides who are tipped to be in the reckoning come May, saw both teams hit the woodwork in the first-half. After the break, Hull should really have found themselves ahead when Matty Fryatt took too many touches when bearing down on goal. At the other end, Taylor-Fletcher should have done better with a header.
However, the Blackpool man more than made up for it ten minutes from time. Picking the ball up 30 yards from goal, he played the ball to Keith Southern before advancing towards the penalty area. Southern’s beautifully chipped return pass, sat up perfectly for Taylor-Fletcher to unleash a ferocious half-volley into the far right-hand top corner. It was a goal good enough to win any game and gave the Seasiders a perfect start as they bid to return to the Premier League.
3. Glory for the new boys
Last season, newly-promoted Norwich City stormed into the Premier League at the first attempt, whilst fellow new-boys Leeds United were there-or-thereabouts for much of the season. Following in the same vein, this year’s newly-promoted sides all tasted success on the opening day. Brighton came from behind to defeat Doncaster, an Adam Lallana-inspired Southampton overwhelmed Leeds United, whilst two second-half goals enabled Peterborough to beat Crystal Palace 2-1.
4. New division, new manager, new players – same old result
Following last term’s relegation, West Ham United have undergone a dramatic transformation. With Sam Allardyce installed as manager, the club has made terrific signings in the guise of Kevin Nolan and Matty Taylor as well as keeping hold of stars such as Scott Parker and Rob Green. Excited by the summer developments, prior to Sunday’s game with Cardiff City, hundreds of fans queued outside Upton Park to get their hands on season tickets.
As the famous Hammers anthem “I’m forever blowing bubbles” rang around the ground and a nationwide audience tuned in for live coverage; expectations were certainly high. However, ninety minutes later, Allardyce’s honeymoon period was already over, as new Cardiff striker Kenny Miller popped up with a last-minute winner. For new Bluebirds’ boss Malky Mackay, it was a fantastic start to his managerial reign. For the Hammers, after such a tough season last year, this was the worst possible start. The Upton Park faithful will be hoping it is only a minor setback.
5. It’s not over, till it’s over
The never-say-die attitude of The Championship was displayed in full-force, as no fewer than six sides came from behind to either win or draw. Brighton, Derby and Peterborough all overturned early goals to gain 3 points, whilst Portsmouth twice levelled to gain a valuable draw away at Middlesbrough. However, the most impressive comebacks belonged to Burnley and Reading. With only 15 minutes to go at home in games they were expected to win, both trailed 2-0 to Watford and Millwall respectively. Both showed tremendous character to score twice to bring the scores level and rescue an unexpected point.
6. One to watch – Adam Lallana
In beating Leeds United 3-1, Southampton had impressive performances all over the pitch. From goalkeeper Kelvin Davis to forwards Rickie Lambert and David Connolly, every Saints player played his part in their fantastic start to the season. But one player stood out above the rest – young midfielder Adam Lallana. The 23-year old was a constant threat with his energy, probing runs and creativity causing all sorts of problems for the Leeds goal.
He capped a wonderful display with Southampton’s second goal, when he latched onto Lambert’s through ball, coolly threw Andy O’Brien a dummy, before curling a left-foot shot past Andy Lonergan. Two minutes later he nearly added a third, before teeing up Connolly early in the second-half. With Southampton selling youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal for £12m, Lallana will be a key player for the Saints. If the Leeds game is anything to go by, he is more than up for the challenge.