As Sunderland and Derby prepare to face each other in the first match of the Sky Bet Championship season on Friday night, live on Sky Sports, we take a closer look at how much a good start matters for a team’s promotion ambitions…
The Black Cats and the Rams meet on Sky Sports Football to kick off the opening round of the 2017/18 season, and the two clubs are among the favourites to win promotion to the Premier League.
Both will want to hit the ground running, with Simon Grayson taking charge of Sunderland in a competitive match for the first time and Gary Rowett hoping to help Derby realise their potential.
Recent seasons suggests, however, that a victory on the opening day is not essential if you want to win promotion. Less than 50 per cent of sides to go up in the last 10 seasons (2007/08 to 2016/17) have won their first game of the season.
Out of 30 opening fixtures played in that time, 14 have been won, nine drawn and seven lost. There hasn’t been a single season where all three promoted sides have secured three points in their first match.
In 2016/17, Newcastle suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at Fulham in their first game, while Brighton couldn’t find a way past Derby in a goalless draw at Pride Park.
Huddersfield, who went up through the play-offs, did find a win, however, beating Brentford 2-1.
Breaking it down
The champions, in particular, often have a rough ride on opening day. Just four of the last 10 Championship winners have won their first game, with four draws and two defeats also during that time.
The sides to go up through the play-offs have a better winning percentage than that, with five wins, one draw and four defeats in the last 10.
Teams to finish second also have five wins in the last 10, with four draws and just a single defeat also coming in that time.
The only season in the last 10 where all three promoted teams failed to win was 2009/10, when the top two of Newcastle and West Brom drew 1-1 at The Hawthorns, while Blackpool were held to the same scoreline at QPR.
The Black Cats v The Rams
So what does this all mean for Friday night’s curtain raiser? New Sunderland boss Grayson, preparing for his first game in charge, is expecting a tough encounter at the Stadium of Light.
“There are no easy games, they’re relentless and you’ve got to be prepared physically and mentally,” he told Sky Sports. “Gary [Rowett] has had time to bed in there last year and he’s implemented his own ideas.
“We’re expecting a tough one and they’re a team who are expected to be around the play-offs at the very least. We know what’s required of our team, and we have to be as well prepared as we can.”
Rowett, meanwhile, is pleased with his side’s work in pre-season, but knows that nothing can quite replicate the intensity of a competitive game.
“The players look fit and sharp but you can’t replicate that same type of running you have in the proper games; we’ll see and feel it on Friday night and face that challenge,” he told Derby’s official website.
“I am pleased so far. It is easy to judge without the games starting and I can only look over the last six weeks, which have gone well.
“We have been pretty miserly from a defensive aspect and given very little away, although we know on the whole we haven’t played a lot of teams in pre-season that will be up to the level we’ll face in the Championship.”
History suggests that an opening-day defeat is no disaster in pursuit of promotion, but equally both bosses will be aware of the importance of how much an opening-day victory can boost morale.Euro Soccer Bonus
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