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Saturday, 18 August 2012

The 10 worst opening day defeats in the modern game

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The new football season in England kicks off on Saturday and everyone will be going into the first game full of optimism and hope for a successful season. Unfortunately, some fans may be left crying in their beer come Saturday night.

You see, football can be a cruel, cruel game. It can take that optimism, screw it up into a ball and flush it down the toilet.

Here are some of the worst opening day defeats in recent memory.

Arsenal 2 Norwich City 4 – Aug 15 1992

It was the dawn of the new Premier League era and Arsenal raced into a two-nil half-time lead thanks to goals from Steve Bould and Kevin Campbell. It all looked rosy at Highbury for the home side, but Norwich City boss Mike Walker and his men had not read the script. They came out for the second half eager to make amends for their first half no-show.

It took the Canaries 69 minutes to get a goal through Mark Robins, but then the floodgates opened. David Phillips made it all square three minutes later, Ruel Fox popped up to make it 3-2 with just eight minutes remaining and before Arsenal could try and salvage a point Robins had hit home the Canaries’ fourth.

Norwich went on to finish third that season. Arsenal could only manage tenth.

Sheffield United 2 Manchester United 1 - August 15 1992

At the same time as Arsenal were being stunned by Norwich, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United were also on the receiving end of an upset by Sheffield United.

The Blades' Brian Deane made history by scoring the first goal in the Premier League with a powerful header from a well worked set piece. Deane terrorised the United backline and had a goal ruled out for offside before he made it two with a penalty.

United pulled one back through Mark Hughes but they never looked like gaining a share of the spoils.

However, it didn't affect United too much. The Red Devils went on to clinch their first league title in 26 years.

Hibernian 5 Dundee United 0 – Aug 13 1994

Dundee United entered the season as Scottish Cup holders, yet on this afternoon all of that was forgotten. Alex Miller’s Hibs side went goal crazy, going three up before half-time through efforts by Billy Findlay and a brace from Darren Jackson. Sub Kevin Harper added a fourth before former United man Michael O’Neill rubbed salt into the wounds with a late fifth.

At the end of the season United were relegated from the top flight, Hibs finished third.

Crystal Palace 1 Liverpool 6 – Aug 20 1994

Newly promoted Crystal Palace knew life back in the top flight would be hard and former European giants Liverpool showed them no mercy. Jan Molby opened the scoring at Selhurst Park after just 12 minutes, followed by a goal from Steve McManaman two minutes later. It was soon three when Robbie Fowler capitalised on a defensive blunder before Chris Armstrong pulled one back. The home fans thought the comeback was on but Liverpool stepped on the gas. Ian Rush made it four before the Welshman and McManaman completed their doubles.

Palace were relegated at the end of the season, Liverpool finished fourth.

Aston Villa 3 Manchester United 1 – Aug 19 1995

Sir Alex Ferguson started the season with a new look and an emphasis on young players. The Scotsman started the game with Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville and Lee Sharpe, with a certain David Beckham coming off the bench in the second half. However, it didn’t really go to plan for the men from Old Trafford. Villa raced into a 3-0 half-time lead thanks to goals from Ian Taylor, Mark Draper and Dwight Yorke. Beckham pulled a goal back for the Red Devils but it was too late. Match of the Day pundit and former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen claimed “you will never win anything with kids”. Of course United, who at one stage were 12 points off the leaders, went on to pip Newcastle United to the title.

Leicester City 0 Bolton 5 – Aug 18 2001

Bolton Wanderers made their intentions clear following promotion to the Premier League in 2001 by thrashing Leicester City on the opening day of the campaign a decade ago. The Foxes were expected to see off Sam Allardyce’s newcomers with ease, how wrong they were. Kevin Nolan broke the deadlock after 15 minutes and Michael Ricketts had made it two after 33. Nolan scored his second eight minutes later before Per Frandsen completed an awful first 45 minutes for Peter Taylor’s men. Leicester looked a bit better in the second half but the damage had already been done. Per Frandsen added a fifth though just for good measure.

At the end of the season Leicester went down, Bolton have never looked back.

Blackburn Rovers 5 Wolves 1 – Aug 10 2003

Newly promoted Wolves’ reward for winning the Championship play-off final was an away trip to former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers. It was going to be a day they’d never forget. Dave Jones’ men held out for 17 minutes before Lorenzo Amorouso put Rovers in front. David Thompson made it two-nil in less than 30 minutes. Brett Emerton made it three just after the restart before Stefan Iversen restored some pride. Unfortunately Blackburn boss Graeme Souness threw on the poacher Andy Cole who added a brace inside eight minutes to make it 5-1.

Wolves went straight back down that season, Blackburn finished 15th.

Everton 1 Arsenal 6 – Aug 15 2009

Arsenal, as they have been for most seasons recently, were strongly tipped to fall out of the top four this season and Everton were meant to give them a thorough examination. It didn’t quite go to plan though for the Toffees. Brazilian Denilson opened the scoring after 26 minutes and Everton found themselves three down at half-time, as defenders Vermaelen and Gallas opened their Arsenal accounts. Cesc Fabregas added two more after the break before Eduardo capped an amazing day for the Gunners with a sixth. Louis Saha pulled a consolation back for Everton but the game was all but over at half-time.

Arsenal went on to finish third, 11 points behind Chelsea, while Everton didn’t let that result faze them, they finished eighth.

Norwich City 1 Colchester United 7 – Aug 8 2009

Arguably the most horrific opening day result of them all came at Carrow Road in 2009. The Canaries had just been relegated to League One and everyone expected them to come straight back up under the watchful guise of City legend Bryan Gunn. However, Colchester boss Paul Lambert had other ideas. The visitors raced into a four-goal lead after just 22 minutes and Kevin Lisbie’s second of the afternoon made it five before half-time. Cody McDonald pulled one back before David Perkins and Scott Vernon completed the rout. After this game Bryan Gunn was relieved of his duties and Norwich appointed Paul Lambert as manager. The rest as they say is history.

QPR 0 Bolton 4 - August 13, 2011

Neil Warnock's men had taken the Championship by storm and hopes were high of a good start on their return to the top flight. Unfortunately Bolton Wanderers had their own plan.

Gary Cahill opened the scoring with the visitors' first attempt on target. Worse was to follow when Danny Gabbidon put through his own net. A deflected strike by Ivan Klasnic gave Paddy Kenny no hope and their misery was compounded late on with a composed finish by Fabrice Muamba. Rs defender Clint Hill was also shown a red card. Despite that opening day horror show, QPR survived and Bolton went down.


There have been other huge defeats on the opening day of the campaign in England. Brighton smashed Mansfield for six in 1999, Rotherham turned Millwall over 6-0 at the New Den in 2002, QPR beat Blackpool 5-0 at home in 2003 and Millwall again were thrashed 5-1 away at Chesterfield in 2006. Manchester City left Charlton on the back of a 4-0 humping in 2000 and West Bromwich Albion were on the receiving end of a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea two seasons ago.

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Colin Illingworth



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