The 2017/18 English Football League kicked off in style this weekend, and its flagship division, the Championship got things underway on Friday evening, culminating yesterday afternoon with all 24 teams having then played their first fixture.
So, what did we learn?
1 – The Championship will again be predictable in its unpredictability
The two market leaders pre season, along with the three play off teams from last season, all got off to poor starts – with none of these teams winning and three of them losing, without scoring a goal between them. OK, you could *just* about forgive Middlesbrough’s loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers, as they are quite fancied to do well this season – but Reading and Sheffield Wednesday both lost to teams expected to struggle, whilst Villa could only manage a home draw with decimated Hull City. None of the Premier League relegated sides won their opening fixture. Expect this trend to continue all season. This is the Championship.
2 – Home comfort crucial
Of the 12 fixtures this weekend, there were only two away wins – both at teams expected to be in the relegation dogfight come next May (Burton Albion and Bolton Wanderers). Not only that, only three other teams picked up away points by gaining a draw (Derby County, Hull City and Norwich City). So nearly a 60% home win ratio. The old adage of win at home, draw away = success never more prevalent than in the Championship.
3 – It may be exciting, but not always pretty
Goals were at a premium over the first weekend, with only two matches generating three goals or more, and thirteen of the twenty four teams only notching a goal apiece. Championship games are rarely dull, but are not always goal fests, with blood and thunder being more the style than easy on the eye, fluid football.
4 – Bad day for the ‘B’s
Burton, Birmingham, Brentford, Barnsley, Bolton….all played….all lost. Only Bristol City bucked the trend with an eye catching 3-1 victory over hapless Barnsley. Can’t read into this too much, but of the ‘B’ list teams, only Brentford are truly fancied to be more towards the top of the table than the bottom end.
5 – Crowds flock to games – attendances good
Fans were clearly ready to see live football again, with excellent crowd numbers recorded. 6 of the 12 fixtures got gates of 20k or more, and only Burton Albion failed to get a crowd in excess of 14k. With a number of the Championship big hitters still to play their first game at home, this is a very encouraging start and an indication that English football’s second tier is in a healthy shape, as loyal fans watch their team chase the Premier League dream.
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