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Leyton Orient and Newport County Impress On Opening Weekend

Thursday 8th August 2013
Bruce Halling gives his thoughts on the opening weekend of the SkyBet Football League and some of the things we have learnt from the first ninety minutes of the league season.
After an off-season which seemed to drag on just as much as any other, the Football League season finally got back underway last weekend. With five new teams to watch in action and another fourteen adjusting to life competing at a different level, the first weekend is a time when you can learn a lot about what we might be preparing ourselves to accept over the coming season. So what have we learnt from the opening ninety minutes of football this season?

• Relegated sides in the Championship all look capable of bouncing back

Over the course of history, the large majority of teams that come down from the Premier League have at least looked capable of challenging for an immediate return to the top flight. Last season was an unusual one, as neither Wolves (who ultimately went down again), Blackburn (who could easily have followed them down) or Bolton ever looked like genuine promotion contenders, although Bolton did at least look as though they might have been able to get into the playoffs towards the end of last season.

This season looks as though we may see a return to the more recognised pattern of form. Despite the fact Barnsley are amongst the favourites to go down, Wigan's manner of victory at Oakwell was still very convincing and shows that they mean business. Reading and QPR also got off to a winning start but had to come from behind to do so. For Reading, this is nothing unusual as they seem to have come from behind more often than not in games over the past year or so, but for QPR this is a very positive thing. All too often last season they were guilty of lacking the determination and - most importantly - the ability to fight back if they went a goal down. The way they came from behind against Sheffield Wednesday displayed a work ethic and character within the side that was missing all too often last season, and could spell good things ahead for Harry Redknapp's side.

• Orient defy tradition in a division that could be anyone's for the taking

Leyton Orient have in the last few years been a team that have always come on a lot stronger in the second half of the season and narrowly missed out on the playoffs on a couple of occasions. Their issue has been that they are perennially slow starters, with it often taking five or six games to get that first win on the board. This season, they've come out of the blocks with a bang and have thrashed a team which have been comfortably in mid-table (if not higher) over the last couple of seasons in their own backyard. The pressure is on to keep this start up, but it could be an early indication that this could be a very good season ahead for Orient.

Looking elsewhere in the division, it's hard to look at the opening weekend and pick a clear favourite - ill-informed or otherwise - based on the results. In the Championship, for example, Wigan's victory really stood out and I'm sure their odds will have been slashed this week based on that performance. The number of draws and odd-goal victories in League One have made it more difficult to pick one team to point at and declare them the early 'team to beat.' This could be because some of the contenders for promotion played each other, but it could also be indicative that this season could surprise for different reasons be as competitive and unpredictable as last season was - although admittedly, that would take some doing.

• Newport & Portsmouth could surprise for different reasons

For me, two results really stood out from League Two and it's important to emphasise the significance of these. Firstly, I'll talk about Newport County, who returned to the Football League in stunning fashion with an emphatic display against Accrington. By the end of the season, I don't expect this result to stand out when placed in context of the entire season, especially if Accrington live up to their billing as a team that will struggle, but this is a significant result for Newport. It highlights that they've done a very shrewd job in the transfer market and that Justin Edinburgh's team could be the surprise package of this season. Stevenage and Crawley have demonstrated in recent years that it is possible to use the momentum that comes with promotion to catapult yourselves straight through this division and up into League One, and on this evidence, you can't rule out Newport from mounting a challenge to repeat the feat.

At the other end of the scale, Portsmouth had a nightmare start. It's been a tricky few seasons for the Fratton Park club and their match on Saturday was billed as a fresh start and the game where things would finally start heading in the right direction. With huge fan support on their side and still considered a big club, Portsmouth were dubbed as early favourites to win this division, and Saturday's drubbing at the hands of Oxford will surely serve as a rude awakening for the club. There's a long way to go yet this season, but if you have a bad day in this league you will get punished and that's exactly what we saw happen to Portsmouth on Saturday. Too many more bad days like this and Portsmouth could surprise many people for all the wrong reasons.

With all that said, it would be stupid to say that these are definitive conclusions because there are still another 45 games to go and a lot can happen in that time. Making a good first impression is never a bad place to start from, and for those teams who got off to a good start this weekend, they will be hoping for more of the same. For the others, this weekend serves as a warning of the need to step up their game for the remainder of the season.
Bruce Halling
Bruce is a 24-year-old self-confessed Football League addict and author of the 'Road To The Promised Land' column. He is a passionate Southend United fan who has witnessed the Shrimpers' rise to the Championship as well as their more recent fall back to their current position in League Two. Though he doesn’t get to many games as a spectator, he has worked at Southend, Colchester United and now Queens Park Rangers as a steward, so is never too far away from the action on a matchday. Away from football, he is a Politics graduate and currently jobhunting. Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucehalling

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