It's the time of year when, for football fans up and down the land, hope springs eternal. The doldrums of the summer are gone and thoughts of this year being our year, have returned to the minds of supporters from Newcastle to Plymouth, and all points in between.
But for followers of some teams the feeling should be, if it isn't already, anxiety. For Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves, the clock is ticking, and with each second that passes history turns against them. The fact is that not getting promoted back to the Premier League at the first time of asking can be costly, both financially and for the chances of seeing top class football in your city sooner rather than later. Just ask Wolves' opening day opponents, Leeds United.
The beginning of 2012-2013 season marks the Whites' ninth straight season outside of England's top division since their relegation in 2004. For a club that was once a dominant force in English football the word dormant is perhaps now more appropriate.
Their story is not a unique one. The Championship is littered with sides who were perennial Premier League mainstays. Eighteen of the twenty-four team have logged time in England's top club competition, fourteen of those having spent multiple seasons in the promised land. Over the past twenty seasons only six clubs have won the top league in England. Two of those currently call the second tier of English football home.
All of which points to the stark reality that the Championship is harder than ever to succeed in. At least ten teams harbour realistic hopes of automatic promotion, with many more eyeing the playoff places. For the newcomers to the league coming down it is vital to strike while the iron is hot, because as tough a task as it is, it will only get tougher.
Premier League financial assistance, 'parachute payments', were introduced in order to help relegated clubs cope with the loss of revenue that a relegation from the world's most commercially successful league brings. They allow those clubs to keep living the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. But, like the recently unemployed who might spend some time living off their savings, unless they find their way back to the financial levels they were at before, within a short period of time realities have to be faced and luxuries can no longer be afforded. For those Premier League dropouts, those luxuries usually consist of quality football players.
So getting off to a fast start is essential, and crucially for Rovers and the pair of Wanderers it seemed they have put themselves in the best possible position by not having the usual exodus of players, desperate to stay in the top division. Of those on their way out, only David Hoilett and Michael Kightly remained at Premier League level. This might be a continuation of the recent trend of relegated players willing to stick with their clubs for at least one season to see if an instant 'bounce-back' is possible. It could be, perhaps more likely, speak to the quality, or lack thereof, of those relegated sides; that the Premier League looked at what these squads had to offer and decided to pass. Whatever the reason, the continuity and maintenance of quality seemingly boded well for the recent Premier League orphans.
Unfortunately, for all the good omens, the results were disappointing. A return of just a single point from those three teams, the lowest for the three relegated clubs on the opening day of the season for over ten years. It should be noted that all three opened up away from home, and all against opponents who have been Premier League teams in recent years. However, and perhaps worryingly, these were the teams who finished thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth in the Championship last term, over twenty points off automatic promotion. In 2011-2012, the three teams who won promotion lost a combined twenty nine games. The Championship new boys combined have lost two, with forty five games to go.
Even though they were the only one of the three to gain a point, it will be Blackburn who are the most disappointed. In a game against an Ipswich side with well documented problems at the back they managed to muster little in attack, with only two attempts on target. Despite this they managed to lead for most of the game though loanee Colin Kazim-Richards' first half header, his first goal in English football for over five years after spells in Turkey, France and Greece. Ipswich's vulnerability at the back was exposed as first Scott Dann was left all alone to head Morten Gamst Pedersen's corner back across goal, allowing a similarly lonely Kazim-Richards to nonchalantly nod home. It would have been a sweet moment for Pedersen after being described as a 'pensioner' by the Rovers Global Advisor Shebby Singh. The other target of Singh's criticism, manager Steve Kean, was typically upbeat at the end of the match. Having been pegged back to a draw courtesy of a Jason Lowe own goal with less than ten minutes to go, Kean was quick to assert that he felt not many teams would come to Ipswich and win this year, a belief born out by the fact that Ipswich were a top half team last season in terms of home record. Still, this game felt like a missed opportunity for Rovers to whip up some early momentum and good feeling around the club, following the well documented turmoil which has surrounded it.
Wolves were presented with an early chance to steal a march on their rivals, after being handed Saturday's early kick off. Perhaps unusually, the only team of the relegated three to part company with their manager, they came into the game with just one league win in their last twenty four, a run stretching back to 4th December last year. They were never dominated by Leeds, but never looked like winning either, with a solitary Luciano Becchio goal proving enough at Elland Road to kick-start their own promotion challenge. Without Steven Fletcher, Wolves fans were given a view of what life might be like if the striker moves on to Sunderland, and while they might be optimistic that against lesser defenses Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Doyle could be a potent vanguard, against Leeds' typically well organised and well marshalled back line they could not fire. Stale Solbakken, making his return to English football after a season playing with Wimbledon in the late 90's, made no excuses for his side, feeling the result was fair. He perhaps will be aware that the Yorkshire clubs promotion ambitions will make Elland Road a difficult place for visitors to come this season.
Much of the hope for Bolton will surround the fact that they have lost very little of note from the side who were relegated by just a single point at the end of last term, and that in Owen Coyle they have a manager who very recently engineered a much less fashionable club's rise from Championship to Premier League. Unfortunately for him, it was that much less fashionable club who had much the better of the chances and who deserved their victory over their Lancashire rivals. What might be more concerning for Coyle is the lack of any sort of potency from his attack, with Olympian Marvin Sordell still finding his place at Bolton and Kevin Davies showing clear indication that he will not be a player whose fitness will allow him to play a significant part every week. Coyle chose to focus on the shortcomings of his defence and the potential for offside in Martin Paterson's opener, but the fact that his side were outplayed must have registered and must be worrying for the Glaswegian.
The sides might take solace from last years promotion trio's opening weekend: a record of won one, drawn one, lost one. A sample size of just a single game means little over the course of a whole season. But for these three, every game this year is vital because the clock is ticking and the bank balance is falling. Every second counts. Forty five games to go.