Links for 10/12/2010

Ricoh Arena Coventry City v Middlesborough (1-0) NPower Championship 04/12/2010 Marlon King (Coventry) celebrates scoring winning goal from penalty spot, his first for Coventry  Photo: Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
  • Arsenal and the Cold War by Nick Wright at In Bed With Maradona – A look back to Arsenal’s exhibition match in communist Russia
  • A Champions League Fairytale by Josh Clarke at The 39th Game – An interesting assessment of FC Copenhagen’s long and winding journey to the Champions League knockout stage, and a lesson in just how far you can stretch an analogy

And we’re back…

Less than one month after Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup trophy, the new football season is upon us.

After a quick break from chastising world class players and scattering tumbleweed-inducing puns like bread in a duckpond, Mark Lawrenson returned to the commentary box for Leeds United against Derby County, a Premier League fixture not that long ago. The victory for Nigel Clough’s unfancied visitors was just one of a number of talking points in an entertaining opening weekend for the football league.

It is of course ridiculous to attempt to read too much into one round of games, but a few things can be taken from a weekend which saw the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 match the England squad announcement in the excitement stakes.

Adel Taarabt

Queens Park Rangers, now free from the shackles of intrusive former chairman Flavio Briatore, sit atop the Championship table after a flattering 4-0 win over a lacklustre Barnsley side. Of course you can only beat what is put out in front of you, and Neil Warnock’s team did that in some style, with million pound man Adel Taarabt running the show. Any suggestion that the Moroccan might rest on his laurels after securing a permanent contract at Loftus Road were put to bed as he showed more glimpses of the form which saw him star for parts of last season.

Pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough were less impressive, however. Opponents Ipswich, who had to wait until late October for their first win of the last campaign, showed no signs of lying down after Scott McDonald’s first-half opener. Goals from Tommy Smith, Tamas Priskin and Jon Stead gave Boro manager Gordon Strachan plenty to think about, although it is surely only a matter of time before new signings such as Kris Boyd and Kevin Thomson manage to gel in a team which finished last season strongly. A new goalkeeper to replace seemingly Liverpool-bound Brad Jones may help too, with error-prone Danny Coyne possibly not up to first-team duties for the whole season.

Nigel Pearson

While Middlesbrough and QPR have dipped into the transfer market, demonstrating a financial clout unmatched by many of their rivals, several teams might argue their best signing is their new manager. Something of a managerial merry-go-round saw no fewer than seven clubs installing new bosses since April. While no chairman will admit to being disappointed with their new appointment, few are likely to be happier than Hull’s Adam Pearson. His namesake Nigel worked wonders at Leicester City before moving into the hotseat at the KC Stadium, and the Tigers already look far removed from the despondent team which left the Premier League with a whimper in May. If John Bostock’s debut goal is anything to go by, Hull fans have cause to be excited about the new campaign once more.

Away from the Championship, there were a couple of surprise results. Alan Pardew’s Southampton side, almost everyone’s tip for automatic promotion from League 1, slipped to defeat at home to Plymouth Argyle, led by former Saints boss Peter Reid. The division looks considerably weaker than last season, with the three teams relegated from the Championship far from certainties for promotion and last season’s high-flyers Swindon and Charlton weakened by the loss of key players, but on the strength of this weekend’s results it looks as though pundits may have underestimated certain sides.

Kyel Reid

Peterborough frontman George Boyd was expected by some to leave London Road over the summer, but his return from a loan spell with Nottingham Forest has allowed the attacking triumvirate of Boyd, Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith to pick up where it left off in the Posh’s promotion campaign of two years ago. Equally, the loss of Jonjo Shelvey to Liverpool and Lloyd Sam to Leeds may not hinder Charlton’s promotion push as much as first thought, with former West Ham wide-man Kyel Reid and lower-league goal machine Pawel Abbott threatening to combine to great effect.

The big story in League 2 was Stevenage Borough’s league debut, and a 2-2 draw with Macclesfield will keep their fans happy for the time being. In a very open division, emphasised by much-fancied Bradford City slumping to a 3-1 defeat at Shrewsbury, it is hard to single out anyone as outright promotion candidates. However one thing which is certain is that a prolific striker goes a long way towards helping a side secure promotion from this division, and Rotherham’s Adam le Fondre demonstrated once again why he is likely to be playing at a higher level soon, be it with the Millers or with someone else. Among the sides who may already have concerns are Barnet, who stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season and may be without marquee signing Steve Kabba for some time after the former Watford and Sheffield United man suffered a nasty-looking injury in the Bees’ defeat at Chesterfield.

As a footnote to the football league action, Manchester United beat Chelsea 3-1 in the Community Shield, with new signing Javier Hernandez getting on the scoresheet on his domestic debut. Chicharito is one of a number of new players looking to light up the Premier League when it gets underway next week, although established names like Paul Scholes demonstrated today they still have a part to play.