Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion were tipped as favourites by bookies to make immediate returns to the Premier League. However, they were given a harsh lesson on the opening weekend of the Championship season as both suffered defeat. It was a rousing wake up call for two of the sides relegated from the top division last season. This division is long, competitive and brutal, and they must adapt quickly.
Stoke and West Brom Given Championship Lesson
West Brom kicked off their campaign on Saturday at home against Bolton. They were heavy favourites against a side expected to be battling near the bottom again this season. West Brom failed to show any quality. The Baggies endured a 2-1 defeat that left them with plenty to look at and much to improve.
Stoke City had to wait until Sunday afternoon before their campaign got underway against Leeds United at Elland Road. But they didn’t have to wait long before realising that they were on the back foot. Leeds were the better side from the outset and an impressive 3-1 victory gave Stoke a harsh welcome back to the Championship.
West Brom Beaten at Home
Yanic Wildschut scored a last-minute winner as Bolton snatched a dramatic opening day victory on the Baggies’ return to the second tier after eight seasons in the Premier League. Wildschut tapped in from close range from a corner for Bolton, who only stayed up by beating Nottingham Forest on the final day of last season.
Despite a stunning goal from on-loan winger Harvey Barnes to level the game just before halftime, after Josh Magennis headed home the opening goal for Bolton, West Brom were poor in many areas of their game, spending the majority of the game with the ball but creating very little. They looked bereft of ideas in the final third as Bolton happily sat behind the ball.
Ironically, West Brom fans had seen this Bolton tactic before. Not too long ago it was commonplace at the Hawthorns under former manager Tony Pulis. The Baggies would often concede 70% possession before nabbing a goal or two from a set piece. Bolton pulled a Pulis on West Brom and it’s a tactic Albion must learn to overcome now that they’re a big fish in this competitive pond.
Stoke Outclassed by Leeds
Stoke were handed an opening day defeat at the hands of an impressive-looking Leeds side. Outclassed from the very beginning, Stoke found themselves behind after just 15 minutes. It was a slick counter by Leeds as Samuel Saiz, on the edge of the box, slid the ball into Mateusz Klich who did the rest.
Leeds deserved a second and it was handed to them at the end of the first half courtesy of a horrendous mistake by England goalkeeper Jack Butland. Pablo Hernandez’ strike was too hot to handle for Butland as he fumbled the effort into the bottom corner. Stoke did score early in the second half as Benik Afobe put away a penalty after a naive tug by Barry Douglas on Tom Ince gave the referee no choice but to award a spot kick. But Leeds restored the two-goal lead just five minutes later. Captain Liam Cooper put the game beyond the reach of Stoke with a simple near-post header from a corner.
Much like the Baggies, Stoke will spend the next few days looking at what went wrong. Defeat to an admittedly impressive Leeds side was deserved; Stoke were pretty dire. It could’ve been more for Leeds but Stoke also had chances at Whites goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell saved James McClean’s free-kick and Bruno Martins Indi headed on to the roof of the net. Stoke never threatened a comeback.
If these two teams are to live up to their billing as promotion favourites they must quickly adapt to this division. Both were handed harsh lessons on opening day; no one is to big for this league, a division that has swallowed up teams like Aston Villa, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest.
There is still time for teams to bring in new faces and the league is obviously not won or lost on day one, but Darren Moore and Gary Rowett have been given stark warnings this weekend that getting out of this league.