The most startling result of the 2015/16 season’s opening weekend, aside from Arsenal’s unexpected 0-2 home defeat to West Ham, came down by the Medway in League One. It was here that Sheffield United, red-hot favourites for League One promotion, copped a 4-0 thumping from Gillingham in Nigel Adkins’ first competitive game as Blades boss.
While Gillingham are a good outside bet to challenge for promotion to the Championship, the margin of their victory against Sheffield United was striking. It is unlikely this result alone will cause the Bramall Lane suits to locate the panic button as there is plenty of evidence to suggest that teams with enough class can recover from opening day blips.
The Blades have themselves inflicted an opening day glitch, beating Manchester United 2-1 on the opening day of the 1992/93 season. This game saw Brian Deane score the first goal of the Premier League era. Deane’s two goals in this match, an unchallenged header from a long throw and a penalty resultant of a desperate lunge by Gary Pallister, were not things you would expect the league winners to give up.
That was what United ended up as though, for the first time in 26 years, conceding only 31 goals all season, the meanest defence in the division. While plain old Alex Ferguson (as he was then) was more secure in his job then than he was prior to United’s 1990 FA Cup win, chairman Martin Edwards’ decision to hold firm in the wake of this result, a 3-0 home defeat to Everton and a 1-1 home draw with Ipswich which followed the opening day loss, was borne out by the inaugural Premier League trophy being in Bryan Robson’s hands in May 1993.
This example, and that of their own side’s one win in five at the start of their double-winning season in 1998/99, is something that Arsenal fans wallowing in premature resignation at Sunday’s result, would do well to remember.
One team who did launch the ejector seat after an opening day shock were Norwich in 2009, following an improbable 7-1 home defeat to Colchester in 2009/10’s first knockings. This was not the League One baptism that the Norwich board had in mind. Their solution was to quickly dispense with the services of their legendary goalkeeper Bryan Gunn and replace him with Paul Lambert, the man in charge of Colchester that day. Lambert propelled the Canaries to the League One title by a nine-point margin.
This situation was slightly different from Sheffield United now in that the division Norwich and Lambert won was arguably the strongest that league has ever seen; a league in which 6th-placed Huddersfield got 80 points and in which Southampton missed out on the play-offs due to a 10-point deduction. That result served as a warning to the board that their team risked not being competitive in a fierce field without drastic action.
Whether Norwich would have gone up with Gunn in charge, we’ll never know. Though their subsequent canter to the title underlined the quality of the squad they had at that level. You suspect that this might have told to some extent, regardless of who was at the helm.
Even if Gunn was the wrong man for Norwich then, and if it doesn’t work for Adkins (who has, let us not forget, three promotions from the league he is managing in) in the red half of Sheffield, there is enough historical evidence to suggests that good sides will finish where they deserve to come the end of any season. The players and resources at Adkins’ disposal suggest that, despite an early aberration, they will finish somewhere near where the bookies, pundits and fans expect them to on 8th of May.
What other unexpected opening day results stick in your memory? Do you think that Arsenal and Sheffield United can recover from their setbacks to have successful seasons?
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