Monday 18 August ~
Two Premier League novices took part in the weekend’s fixtures: Hull City, in the top division for the first time in their 104-year history and Stoke City, who were last in Division One in 1984-85 when they went down with a record low points total of 17 points, a figure that stood for 21 years. This record, recently broken twice in four seasons by Sunderland, was reset at a new low by Derby last season with 11 points. It’s a sad reflection of the current imbalance in the Premier League that Derby’s total will be the first target that the promoted clubs will be aiming to achieve.
West Brom are generally seen as the best equipped to do well. Saturday’s early trip to Arsenal brought an expected defeat but next week they host crisis-riven Everton which should be a better measure of their hopes. Last year’s second placed Championship team Stoke were comprehensively defeated by Bolton, who only avoided relegation themselves by one point last season. Stoke manager Tony Pulis is also worried about his clubs inability to bring in the players he wants: “The chairman has put the money up but people won’t touch us because of who we are and where we’ve come from.”
The story that has created the most media interest is that of Hull City. They haven’t managed to retain last year’s main striker, on-loan striker Fraizer Campbell, who has returned to Man Utd but one of the signings, Geovanni, got their first Premier League goal, with Caleb Folan later sealing a win against Fulham. While many reports concentrated on the winning goalscorer’s interest in art, Hull chairman Paul Duffen was more worried about promoting civic pride on the Humber: "The whole city is buzzing, and it’s a wonderful thing for anybody involved in sport to see what a positive impact a successful club can have on a once-blighted city, because Hull has been through some tough times."
Even if a couple of the newly promoted clubs go straight down again, they will at least be rewarded for Premier League membership, through parachute payments, for several years to come. However, the aftermath of relegation brings new problems. Last season has hit Derby hard – after losing to Doncaster on the opening day of the Championship, they drew at Bristol City on Saturday. Their fans also are now enduring the ominous sight of Robbie Savage as cheerleader. Watford, who won against Charlton at the weekend with a new “aesthetic approach”, spent less then Derby in attempting to survive the season before and received large amounts of money for selling their best players. Yet they’ve also found relegation difficult to adjust to amid reports of financial trouble. But whatever happens to Hull, they will still finish 2008-09 as the top team in Yorkshire.