The Championship kicked off this weekend, with teams looking to gain momentum in their pushes for promotion.
The highlight of the opening weekend took place at the John Smith’s Stadium, where Bournemouth overran hosts Huddersfield 4-0. After ending last season just shy of the play-off places manager Eddie Howe will be delighted with his team’s start as he looks to mount a sincere chase for promotion. With pleasing acquisitions and money to spend, Howe aims to be well in the running come the end of the season. Callum Wilson arrived from Coventry, replacing former top scorer Lewis Grabban who moved to Norwich for a reported £3 million, while fan favourite Howe netted £5.75 million as the result of a canny clause in Adam Lallana’s transfer from Bournemouth to Southampton which entitled the Cherries to 25% of the midfielder’s future transfer fee.
Wilson had big shoes to fill replacing Grabban, the joint-fourth Championship top scorer last season, and looked every bit the same clinical finisher, twice putting the ball in the back of the net and only denied a hat-trick by a fine penalty save from Huddersfield keeper Alex Smithies. Though Wilson may expect to take the headlines with a debut brace, Bournemouth stalwart Marc Pugh diverted some attention by tucking away a 25-second opener after the Cherries kicked off with a bout of precise and effective build-up play. Yann Kermorgant rounded off the scoring with a neat finish from inside the Huddersfield box.
Elsewhere Fulham began their first season in the second tier since 2001 with an opening day match away to Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich, with Ipswich’s Tractor Boys coming away with a 2-1 victory. A new-look side that may need time to gel, Fulham manager Felix Magath can nevertheless take a great deal of impetus from an influx of young players. Although new owner Shahid Khan has shown a willingness to spend, with an enormous £11 million bringing in Leeds forward Ross McCormack, Fulham’s academy is one of the better set-ups in the Football League, and Magath is clearly aware of the benefits of utilising their exuberant youth. While the Craven Cottage fans might undoubtedly want an immediate return to the top-flight, Fulham might benefit from a couple of seasons in the Championship to build a strong and cohesive team of academy graduates.
While Fulham look to bounce back immediately, for Nottingham Forest the wait continues. Forest remain persistent in their endeavours to match past glories, and fans were pleased to see the return of incoming manager Stuart Pearce. Though the former England U21 manager’s tenure at the City Ground began on unsteady ground after chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi sold Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow out from under him, though both players will return from new home Newcastle on loan for the season, the opening day victory over Blackpool may go a long way to assuaging Pearce. His vocal stance and stern attitude have afforded Pearce the affectionate nickname ‘Psycho’, and his strong approach may be just the catalyst for Forest to progress.
Another side who may be keen to progress from last season is Derby County. Last season’s play-off finalists started their renewed promotion effort with a 1-0 victory over Rotherham. As Steve McLaren continues to rebuild his reputation at Pride Park he will doubtlessly look for new acquisition Cyrus Christie, arriving from Coventry, to continue his sparkling debut form.
With the Championship now underway, fans and pundits alike may inevitably seek to glean the fortunes of all 24 teams, and while there is only so much that might be assumed from the first game of the season it will likely dictate momentum and put certain teams on a strong footing for the season to come. While the favourites will remain so – Wigan and Reading, who topped many predictions for automatic promotion, tied 2-2 – the likes of Bournemouth and Watford, whose front line of Troy Deeney, Fernando Forestieri and Matej Vydra (on loan from Udinese for the second time) all contributed to a 3-0 win at home to Bolton, have put themselves well and truly in the race. In short, it’s shaping up to be an exciting and unpredictable season.
Who has stood out on the Championship’s opening weekend?