In a week holding fixtures such as Blackburn Rovers-Chelsea and Arsenal-West Ham United, you can be forgiven for being surprised at the lack of goal-fests. Chelsea and Arsenal stumbled towards unspectacular wins, whilst Manchester United undid Tottenham Hotspur with a comedy goal on their way to a 2-0 victory. And this morning, it’s promoted Newcastle United who are plastered over the back pages after their thrilling 5-1 victory over local rivals Sunderland, whilst fellow new boys West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool face each other tonight in a potential cracker.
Newcastle’s experienced Kevin Nolan set the ball rolling in the 23rd minute with an improvised overhead kick from close range after another Joey Barton corner kick caused mayhem. Chris Hughton’s side double their lead when unmarked Nolan got his second after reacting to a loose ball. He steadied himself and tapped home from close range. Just before half-time, flying Argentine winger Jonas Guttierrez was felled which left Shola Ameobi to drill his penalty into the bottom left-hand corner and leave his side on cloud nine.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce’s game-plan was unravelling ominously. Seemingly to add more sweetness to the occasion for the home side, former Magpie Titus Bramble was dismissed early in the second half for clattering into the unplayable Andy Carroll. Ameobi helped himself a second from ten yards out after Carroll’s header cannoned violently off the crossbar. The 29-year-old was also involved in his side’s fifth as his header was diverted in by Nolan who completed his hat-trick. There was also time for meagre consolation as Sunderland’s Darren Bent hooked in from six yards towards the final whistle.
It seems there is never a dull moment for Newcastle fans. 18 months ago, they were relegated, below their North-East rivals, and at war with their then fiercely unpopular owner Mike Ashley. Fast-forward to the present day, and they sit pretty in seventh place with 15 points in the Premier League. Hughton has moulded a squad with hardened pros such as Alan Smith, Barton and Nolan, and talented youngsters such as Carroll and James Perch. Carroll has been a revelation this season with five goals and four assists. His bullish presence at set pieces and powerful heading have earned him comparisons with Newcastle legend Alan Shearer.
The rout over Sunderland is not a first either. Hughton’s spirited side mauled a jaded Aston Villa 6-0 at home in August. The heralded trio of Barton, Carroll and Nolan were also majestic on that afternoon. With Fabio Capello’s England squad currently in turmoil after a series of disappointing results, maybe some of Newcastle’s triad of stars could be expecting a call soon.
Like Newcastle, many pundits wrote off Roberto Di Matteo’s West Brom side in August. However, since the inspired capture of the previously unknown Peter Odemwingie, the Baggies have rocketed up the table and find themselves in sixth place. The Black Country side have already showed tremendous spirit to bounce back from a torrid first day 6-0 drubbing at Chelsea, and their highlights include a thrilling 2-2 draw away to Man United and convincing wins over Arsenal and Manchester City.
West Brom are rapidly becoming every fans “other” team. They play attractive football and the story of Odemwingie’s rise to prominence is delightful. Before Odemwingie rescued his team with a 81st minute winner against Sunderland, he had only joined his team the previous day and had barely spoken with or met his team-mates properly. Born in Uzbekistan and a Nigerian international, Odemwingie was frequently the subject of racist abuse whilst playing for Lokomotiv Moscow. However, he is fast becoming a cult hero at The Hawthorns due to his timely goalscoring. He is skilful and calm in front of goal and has scored around once every three games throughout his career in Russia and France.
Di Matteo’s men have already scored 13 goals this season and are notoriously hard to beat at home. They have conceded just four goals on home turf this term and have scored three times in the last 20 minutes to change the outcome of matches. Their Northern Ireland international Chris Brunt is showing himself to be one of the most productive playmakers in the Premier League. Brunt has scored once and helped himself to six assists, meaning he has been involved in half of his side’s goals this season.
Blackpool are the next opponents for West Brom, and the tangerine-clad Northerners have also been humbling their more experienced rivals just like Newcastle and West Brom. Watched away at Wigan Athletic by 4,000 incredulous travelling fans on the opening day of the season, Ian Holloway’s team bossed the game and romped to victory with goals from Marlon Harewood (2), Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Alex Baptiste.
The Lancashire side have little funds for transfers and four of the side that started against Wigan had only arrived earlier that week. It is a testament to Holloway’s character and people skills that he was able to throw a team together so quickly. Blackpool were also left red-faced at the start of the season after Bournemouth’s sought-after striker Brett Pitman refused to join, later opting to play for Championship side Bristol City.
However, they make up for their modest transfer targets and budget with their attacking flair and spirit. They have already beaten Liverpool 2-1 and played out thrillers in losing to Blackburn Rovers, Man City and a gripping 2-2 draw against Fulham. Despite their dip in form and languishing in 16th place, there is an ever-present feeling that Blackpool can enjoy their time in the top flight whatever the result.
Their away support has been praised by fans and Holloway has already been putting his good spirited conveyor belt of quotes to use. After Charlie Adam scored an own goal against Blackburn, his manager praised him for what was apparently a good finish. Scottish international Adam has already chipped in with three assists and two goals so far, but is currently involved in a dispute over ostensibly unpaid bonuses to add to his side’s off-field woes.
With Arsenal, Aston Villa and Liverpool all being humbled at the hands of newcomers, it is refreshing to see the smaller sides in the division getting the recognition they deserve. This season, the likes of Carroll and Odemwingie have impressed on the pitch more than Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres. Plus with Holloway doing a difficult job well at Blackpool, there are reasons to fall in love with the three promoted clubs. Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal may have completed unspectacular wins this weekend, but West Brom and Blackpool promises end-to-end fireworks tonight.