So… we travel to Gareth Bale’s Cardiff City on opening day then. At least we will if, as is heavily rumoured, their prodigal son decides to join the Bluebirds by way of getting match fit for Qatar 2022.
If he doesn’t, we’ll just be heading to Cardiff.
The other thing to note is that if indeed he is persuaded, by the dulcet tones of Steve Morison, to sign for them, I see no way that Sky Sports will be able to resist the chance of a Bale love-fest.
Therefore, we should expect the game to be brought forward to either a Friday night or Saturday lunchtime slot – either one a veritable nightmare for City’s travelling supporters, not that that matters to Sky, or the EFL come to that.
But it’s too early for a hypothetical rant.
Anyway… I’ve never been overly excited by the publishing of the new season’s fixtures.
Until recently I was of the naïve opinion that you play everyone home and away, so what does it really matter what order you play them in. Except it does. More so in the Premier League admittedly, but it still matters.
Last season’s opening four games from hell – Liverpool (h), Man City (a), Leicester (h), Arsenal (a) – were the polar opposite of what we needed if we were to gain some confidence and even a foothold in what was always going to be a huge ask. Brentford’s more palatable opening four fixtures certainly gave them a boost from which they prospered.
In our previous Premier League sojourn, in 2019-20, we played Liverpool and Chelsea in two of our opening three games – lost them both of course – and concluded, not that it mattered in the end, with Chelsea and Man City in two of our last three.
And, of course, who can forget the closing fixtures of the 2013-14 campaign, when Chris Hughton was relieved of his duties with five games to go and replaced by Neil Adams. The games over which Adams was asked to perform a miracle were Fulham (a), Liverpool (h), Man Utd (a), Chelsea (a), and Arsenal (h).
Unsurprisingly there were to be no miracles.
The point I’m clumsily trying to make is that the order of the fixtures does matter, although in the anyone-can-beat-anyone Championship it may be less clear-cut.
On paper, and only on paper, City’s opening bunch of fixtures look okay from a winnable perspective, less so if you’re part of the travelling Y’Army. Trips to Cardiff and Sunderland, which sandwich a trip to Hull, are certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Luckily for the club, those who follow them away from home are anything but.
We open at home on 6 August against newly-promoted Wigan and then, after a Carabao Cup game and the trip to Hull, there are back-to-back home games against Huddersfield and Millwall.
Like I said, it all looks okay on paper. Let’s just hope it’s also okay on grass.
In the absence of a local derby, the next most notable fixtures are around the Festive period, where we make the, I guess, relatively short trip to Kenilworth Road, Luton on Boxing Day, entertain Reading on the 29th and then host Watford on New Years’s Day.
The final few fixtures are pretty meaningless as things stand as we know not who will be fighting for promotion – the Championship is the Championship – but for the record, the final five fixtures are Boro (a), QPR (a), Swansea (h), West Brom (a) and Blackpool (h).
The other oddity of this fixture list is that there is a mid-season hiatus for the World Cup. Unlike the Premier League, the Championship doesn’t shut down for the duration of the tournament, but it does pause after our home game with Boro on 12 November before resuming again on World Cup quarterfinals day (10 December) when we travel to Swansea.
Interestingly, one of said quarterfinals is scheduled for 3pm GMT.
Anyway, lots of ifs, buts and maybes but I’d imagine Dean Smith will be reasonably happy with the hand he’s been dealt.
As ever, time will tell, but it’s there now in black and white… at least it is until Sky Sports decide to change it.
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