The wait is finally over! Hooped scarves can be recovered from the back of drawers, Saturdays can be scored out of diaries, and trains booked for distant away days. The new season is well and truly underway - and there’s every reason for optimism. (Well, there was...)
In case you’re keen to quickly shift the misery at Loftus Road to the back of your mind, let’s focus elsewhere in the Championship. Here are some of the key stories from the opening weekend:
Reading target in celebration scandal
Nelson Oliveira is rustling feathers at Norwich. The prolific, Portuguese striker was left out of the Canaries’ starting XI for their opener at Craven Cottage – much to his disgust. Oliveira was given his chance on 64 minutes, at which stage his side were trailing 1-0. Determined to prove a point, his 25-minute cameo had the desired impact, and two minutes from time he scored the equaliser. The goal oozed class. He chested down an aerial pass, turned and finished smartly – but it was his celebration that grabbed the headlines.
Oliveira sprinted over to the dugouts, made a beeline for his manager, Daniel Farke, and removed his shirt. In protest against his omission, he pointed provocatively at his name on the back. Several heated exchanges later, he was dragged back onto the field of play by his teammates to resume the game, and see out the draw.
Farke told BBC Norwich, “He wants to start, it was a sign for the guys and for me. He's emotional, and full of passion. I'm relaxed about it.” Many would not be so forgiving of this blatant undermining of the manager’s autonomy, and public show of discontent. With Reading, amongst others, widely reported to be interested in Oliveira, might this incident open up a window of opportunity for a summer switch?
Wolves win battle of the big-spenders
Deep-pocketed Wolverhampton Wanderers secured an impressive 1-0 victory over Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough. With no fewer than thirteen new recruits on show, seven from Wolves and six from Middlesbrough, it’s unsurprising that a debutant scored the winner. Leo Bonatini, recently signed on a season-long loan from Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal, pounced on Daniel Ayala’s mistake and cooly finished past Darren Randolph.
Eye-catching summer signing Ruben Neves made his league debut, having joined in the close-season from Porto for a whopping £15.8 million fee (that’s over 4 times more than Reading paid for Tiago Ilori). Young talents Willy Boly and Diogo Jota were also welcomed into the fold by a sell-out Molineux, as was experienced goalkeeper John Ruddy, who started his campaign by shutting out Boro’s enviable £31.1 million strikeforce – Martin Braithwaite (£9.6m), Britt Assombalonga (£15m) and Ashley Fletcher (£6.5m).
Perhaps this result against a much-fancied Boro side demonstrates early signs of a top-6 challenge from Nuno Espirito Santo’s team. If ‘money talks’ then both of these clubs will be competing for the automatic spots this season, but history suggests the Championship is far less predicatable than that.
And the rest…
It’s impossible to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’ at this early stage of the season, so I’m casting my net wide with a full round-up.
Three ex-Royals found the net in their opening fixtures. Billy Sharp bagged the winner for Championship new boys Sheffield United, as the Blades edged past playoff dark-horses Brentford. Lewis Grabban also scored for his new club, as he helped Sunderland to a hard-fought draw against Matej Vydra and Alex Pearce’s Derby County. Then on Sunday, Adam Le Fondre’s penalty proved not to be enough for Bolton in an entertaining 3-2 defeat to Leeds.
Bristol City breezed past a depleted Barnsley side, with three first half goals, including a brace from diminutive midfielder Bobby Reid. The Ashton Gate crowd saw new club-record signing Famara Diedhiou open his account, as he bids to fill the void left by last season’s loan sensation Tammy Abraham.
John Terry made his Villa debut, but a first competitive goal for Hull youngster Jarrod Bowen denied him the three points that he craved. Joe Garner’s return to Championship football was the key for Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich side, who won 1-0 at Birmingham, and Forest proved too strong for Millwall.
Meanwhile, Cardiff left it late to beat plucky Burton Albion, with Kenneth Zohore firing home arguably the goal of the weekend. And finally, Sheffield Wednesday slipped to defeat at Preston, possibly suffering from the same ‘playoff hangover’ that plagued Reading at Loftus Road.
Coming up next week:
After Gillingham’s Carabao Cup visit midweek, the Royals face their revenge-fuelled playoff rivals Fulham at the Mad Stad. Elsewhere, Villa’s trip to Neil Warnock’s Cardiff catches the eye, and Middlesbrough have a chance to bounce back from defeat against Sheffield United.