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English Football League Gameday 1 In Review

With the first football league weekend in the books, Undrafted take a look at the key performances around the EFL, and whether these indicate bright times ahead or cause for concern for their respective clubs.

Where have we got it right, and where do you disagree? Drop us a comment on our Facebook page to let us know!

Championship

Aug 7, 2021: Fred Onyedinma caps a fine debut with a well-taken goal. Credit: BBC Sport

Hot: Luton

Gameday 1 reminded us that football is nothing without the fans, and nowhere was this better exemplified than at Kenilworth Road. When supporters were offered a pandemic-related 40% discount on Season Tickets, they chose instead to create a ‘Transfer Club’ fund for new players. Enter Fred Onyedinma from Wycombe, who repaid them with a performance to savour. The debutant was a constant threat with two assists, a wonderfully taken goal and the promise of a bright future. Onyedinma is undoubtedly my one to watch from across all league’s following this weekend’s football. Special mention to Brereton-Diaz of Blackburn, the Stoke-born Chilean who stepped up to replace Premiership-bound Adam Armstrong and could easily have notched a hat-trick against Swansea. 

Cold: Preston North End

Frankie McAvoy will not remember his first game as permanent manager fondly, losing to a newly-promoted side (Hull). His side were unable to find their way out of their half for much of the game, and were restricted to long-range shots when they did. The level of defending for three of the goals, and the lack of impact the attacking substitutions made points to wider issues with the squad who face three games against lower-table rivals (Reading, Huddersfield, Peterborough) in August.

Better than results suggest: Sheffield United

Conceding their first shot of the season, the Blades pressed for the rest of the 90 minutes, retaining 76% possession. This wasn’t the same well-drilled outfit that took the Championship by storm a few years ago, but a ponderous team finding their way under a new manager. Jokanovic is a notoriously slow starter, however, a game against Swansea next offers the opportunity for a confidence-building win.  

Not as good as results suggest: Middlesborough

On a positive note, Warnock has a history of promotions from the Championship. Every team in this division would be happy with a draw away to Fulham. Unfortunately, looking behind the score, Boro gave up two-thirds possession, 16 shots, and as the game wore off Fulham had three clear chances that should have been put away. Next up is a home game against Bristol City, and it will be interesting to see if Warnock alters his approach as a result. 

Paul Warne will be happy with Rotherham’s first performance on their return to League One. Credit: Yorkshire Post

League One

Hot: Rotherham

Paul Warne has achieved promotion from League One twice as Rotherham manager and his team were in cruise-control for much of their game against Plymouth. The Millers dominated their opponents in the air, and were particularly effective from set pieces, traits that will serve them well in this league. I don’t expect Plymouth to trouble the top half this season, there will be sterner tests ahead but Rotherham have all the tools to achieve a third promotion. 

Cold: Cambridge United

No one said stepping up a division would be easy, however, Mark Bonner won’t be happy that his side only registered a shot-on-target when presented with the opportunity from the penalty spot. The U’s were heavily reliant on record-goalscorer Paul Mullin last term, and his departure alongside goal-scoring midfielder Luke Hannant has seriously blunted their attack as a result. Whilst Oxford are one of the better teams in this league, however, I see a long season ahead for the Abbey Stadium faithful.

Better than results suggest: Fleetwood Town

I’m playing this one forward a bit, under the assumption that Fleetwood fail to pick up wins in their next two games (Lincoln and Sheffield Weds both away). This form would pitch Fleetwood straight into a relegation scrap, however, there are some real positives that the team can take from Saturday’s loss. They started brightly and dominated large periods of the game, forcing their opponents backwards, with only their profligacy in front of goal preventing them from being ahead at half-time. Whilst the second half was less impressive, they finished the game strongly. The Cod Army’s forwards are finding positions but not executing, signs of a strong campaign if they can just get through August with morale intact. 

Not as good as results suggest: AFC Wimbledon

Losing top-scorer Joe Piggott to fellow League One side Ipswich Town will inevitably hamper The Dons ability to improve on last season’s 19th place finish. The team possess a very talented replacement in Ayoub Assa, however, one cannot underestimate the pressure for a 19-year-old to lead the line week after week and notch over 20 goals. Mark Robinson’s side is the youngest in the league, with an average age of 23, and without experienced heads, I don’t think they’ll have what it takes to thrive. On the plus side, ex-Chelsea starlet Luke McCormick shone on his debut, and I fully anticipate him raising the club’s Player of the Year award come season’s end. 

League Two

Aug 7, 2021 – A happy return to League Two for Swindon Town as they come from behind to record a comfortable victory against Scunthorpe. Credit: Swindon Advertiser

Hot: Swindon Town

As I watched this game, I was astounded by the level of quality that Swindon’s midfield possessed, it must be the strongest at this level. Notable performances came from McKirdy, a constant threat on goal, and Ben Gladwin, who didn’t put a foot wrong all game. Both players capped off their afternoon with finely taken goals that put this result beyond doubt. Special mention to Ellis Iandolo who was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself. Swindon will have tougher afternoons, however, I don’t see them falling below the top six all season.

Cold: Oldham Athletic

Oldham kept last season’s playoff finalists to 0-0 for 87 minutes, and they held their own in all areas of the pitch. The Latics failed to register a single shot-on-target and face two games away to teams I expect to cement a top-six finish (Bradford, Bristol Rovers). Having suffered a transfer embargo this summer, this was their 4th league game without a win stretching back to last season. Keith Curle has experience but I don’t see him turning this one around anytime soon. 

Better than results suggest: Bristol Rovers

Full disclosure, I am a Gashead myself, and so I had to justify this selection with cold logic. Away to a promotion rival, with eight debutants, down to ten men towards the end, and only losing by a 96th-minute penalty indicate there is plenty to come from this team. There is a dark cloud around the club stemming from multiple assault charges against their manager, however, I expect more good days than bad for Rovers this season. It will be interesting to see how Ben Pittman performs at a lower level and if Aaron Collins can repeat last year’s heroics which saw him have a hand in 18 of Forest Green’s goals.

Not as good as results suggest: Colchester United

This was a tough pick, as many of the results went with form. As a result, I’ve picked a relegation contender who managed to achieve a creditable away draw on the opening day. It was only the heroics of Goalkeeper Shamal George, however, that kept Colchester in this game as he denied many close-range efforts. Coupled with a goal-shy attack, this is an unbalanced squad I expect to struggle with in the current term. 

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