x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Premier League: sterling start, startling miss

Following the weekend's opening nine matches, Paul Radley selects the most impressive and embarrassing moments.

Tim Howard contemplates his error that allowed Blackburn's Nikola Kalinic to score.
Tim Howard contemplates his error that allowed Blackburn's Nikola Kalinic to score.

Who would have guessed it? Certainly, very few West Ham United or Aston Villa fans would have foreseen Harewood, their oft-derided former forward, spearheading his new club Blackpool's opening day thrashing of Wigan Athletic. As the days ticked away until the start of the new season, the free agent Harewood had been reportedly on the verge of joining David O'Leary, his former Villa manager, at Al Ahli in Dubai. He settled on a different, and moderately less salubrious, stretch of coast instead. Premier League new boys Blackpool will be forever thankful they had the deal signed and sealed in time for the start of the new season. The experienced striker, who is built like a heavyweight prize-fighter, scored twice for the Seasiders and set up Gareth Taylor-Fletcher's opener to lay the platform for their stunning 4-0 success.

The young England goalkeeper was so ridiculously good in the first half of the 0-0 draw against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, even Shay Given, his rival for the No 1 shirt at Manchester City, had to smile.

Hart had to be, too. It was like the Charge of the Light Brigade towards City's goal. The best save of a very good bunch was his first of the new campaign, to thwart Jermain Defoe, his England squad-mate, after 11 minutes. With Yaya Toure, Manchester City's new midfielder, apparently weighed down by his wages, Aaron Lennon skipped down the wing and reached the by-line. His cross reached Defoe via the head of Peter Crouch, and the England striker swivelled and fired in a volley, but Hart arched back gymnastically and clawed the ball to safety.

Didier Drogba, the hat-trick hero, and his Chelsea teammates provided several candidates for goal of the weekend as they began their attempt to better last season's 103 goal Premier League haul with a 6-0 opening-day thrashing of Roberto Di Matteo's newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. However, none of the Stamford Bridge superstars could trump the sweet effort of Jones, the journeyman Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder. Mick McCarthy's Wolves side took the lead against Stoke on Saturday via an ingenious free-kick, which saw Karl Henry, the club captain, lay off a pass to Jones.

He then chipped the ball up for himself to volley over the defensive wall and in off the underside of the bar. It was always likely a man called Jones was going to claim the headlines in this fixture. Yet, for all his fine efforts, the former Manchester United midfielder still had to give way to his namesake Kenwyne, who stole the attention by sustaining an injury just minutes in to his debut for Stoke following his £8 million (Dh 46.4m) move from Sunderland on Thursday.

A decade ago, in his first spell with the club, Ormerod was part of a Blackpool side that were relegated to the lowest division in English professional football. How times have changed. He was the man who was responsible for the winning goal in the Championship play-off final last season, and it was safe to say "Mr Blackpool" could not wait for this day to come. He could perhaps be forgiven for being so over-excited that he passed up a golden chance to become their first Premier League goalscorer, with two fresh air shots early in the piece against Wigan Athletic.

The more fatalistic fans among the tangerine army might probably feared they would not get another chance that good all season. How wrong they were, as the Harewood-inspired underdogs proceeded to thrash their hopeless north-west neighbours by four goals to nil.

Goalkeepers have had all summer to work on their excuses, especially those, like Howard, who spent much of it at the World Cup in South Africa. However, "I blame the altitude", "that Jabulani ball is shocking" and the old faithful "it hit a divot" just would not wash for Howard on Saturday against Blackburn Rovers. Everton's goalkeeper seemed to have it all under control, as well, as he raced to the edge of the box to field a long through ball. Then the American shot-stopper dropped it, totally inexplicably. Nikola Kalinic, Blackburn's Croatian striker, seemed so stunned by Howard's early season generosity, that he did his best to miss.

However, his shot did just sneak inside the left post of a gaping goalmouth to give Sam Allardyce's side an early 1-0 lead, and eventually all three points. pradley@thenational.ae