One day of sunshine does not a summer make
As Spurs fans jauntily swagger down the street, whistling the Champions League theme tune, and Everton supporters sit hunched in their garages considering their very existence, its worth remembering that the Opening Day is often as misleading as a blood substitution in rugby union.
There may be plenty of examples of markers being laid down for the entire season on day one, but Spoiler correspondent Eliot Pollak recalls five matches which prove that even a blind hen pecks the odd bit of corn.
19th August 1995
Aston Villa 3 Manchester United 1
The apotheosis of opening day anomalies. First half goals from Ian Taylor, Mark Draper and Dwight Yorke saw the Holte End bouncing with optimism, while Alan Hansen told the nation later on Match of the Day that Fergie’s summer boot sale of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis was unlikely to bring success. “You win nothing with kids,” deadpanned Hansen, turning up his nose at Beckham, Scholes, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt.
By May, United had won the double, and the stunning 25 yard consolation a certain Mr D.Beckham whacked in at Villa Park that afternoon, was soon to be his trademark.
17th August 1996
Coventry City 0 Nottingham Forest 3
Frank Clark certainly wasn’t one of the most charismatic of Premier League managers, but he proved competent, at least until the 1996-97 season. A Kevin Campbell hat-trick and stellar performances from summer signings Dean Saunders and Nikola Jerkan more than accounted for Big Fat Ron’s Coventry City. The Sky Blues were booed from the pitch, and Atkinson’s wisdom in splashing out £3m on the 31-year-old Gary McAllister was cast into question by the following day’s press reports.
Forest ended the season bottom, and even worse, with Harry Bassett in charge. Campbell only scored three more league goals the entire season, whilst Coventry, as always in the 90s, survived on the final day.
7th August 1999
Chelsea 4 Sunderland 0
An unusually early start to the Premiership season, explained by meddling bigwigs as a means of aiding the English national team’s preparations for Euro 2000 (think how bad we’d have been without that extra time) saw Gianluca Vialli’s Chelsea steamroller newly promoted Sunderland.
This wonderful goal from Gus Poyet still lives in football lovers’ memory banks and Richard Williams in the following day’s Independent spoke of Chelsea’s, “realistic title prospects” and how Didier Deschamps may prove, “the final piece in the jigsaw.” But when the two teams met at the Stadium of Light in November, Sunderland extracted their revenge. A 4-1 victory saw Peter Reid’s newly promoted team move into 4th place in the table, ten points ahead of their opening day conquerors.
One area where this match did prove enlightening however, was the performance of Chris Sutton. The £10m record signing missed a one-on-one with Thomas Sorensen late in the first half, and the oddball chicken-farming frontman only managed one league goal at the Bridge all season. By contrast, Sunderland’s Super Kevin Phillips bagged 30, a feat no English striker has since reproduced, including two stunners in that 4-1 victory.
17th August 2002
Leeds United 3 Manchester City 0
In a match-up of former England managers, new Leeds boss Terry Venables spanked Kevin Keegan’s promoted Manchester City 3-0.
In spite of a summer which saw David O’Leary sacked, Rio sold, and only Nicky Barmby (who scored on debut) arrive, Leeds entered the season optimistic that they could improve on the previous season’s 5th place finish. After all, there was still Woodgate Bowyer, Dacourt, Keane, Viduka, Smith and Kewell in their ranks. City, meanwhile, were full of hope themselves, having spunked over £20m in the summer on Sylvain Distin, Vicente Vuoso and Nicolas Anelka.
Yet Leeds finished the season in 15th, the first part of an irreversible slide down the leagues. By contrast, City ended comfortably in mid-table.
16th August 2008
Everton 2 Blackburn Rovers 3
Considering the 90 minutes after which Paul Ince was hailed as the first black England manager, Everton fans should probably choose not to panic after their mauling last Saturday. Following a torrid summer which saw David Bentley and Brad Friedel leave the club, Ince was thrown in at the deep end with a trip to Goodison Park but his side’s response was remarkable.
A last minute winner (albeit probably offside) from Andre Ooijer proved to be the highpoint of the Guvnor’s reign – he was gone by the winter, while David Moyes steered Everton to a second consecutive 5th place.
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Tagged With : Aston Villa • Blackburn • Chelsea • Coventry • David Moyes • Everton • Leeds • Manchester City • Manchester Utd • Nottingham Forest • Opening Day • Paul Ince • Premier League • Sunderland