By Ian Chadband
The Premier League kicked off in unique fashion on Saturday as an own goal by Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker gave Manchester United a 1-0 victory in an undistinguished season opener at Old Trafford.
Never before had the competition begun with a player putting the ball into his own net until full back Walker inadvertently prodded the ball past Michel Vorm in the 22nd minute when desperately trying to dispossess Wayne Rooney.
The victory for one of the title contenders was followed by a tough afternoon for the League’s unfancied newcomers with newly-promoted Watford pegged back to a 2-2 draw at Everton after twice leading and Norwich City losing 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace.
Bournemouth, the romantics’ favourites after their extraordinary six-year march from near-bankruptcy to the Premier League, had their fairytale rudely interrupted at a vibrant, emotional Dean Court as Aston Villa defeated them 1-0 in their first-ever match in the top flight in 125 years.
The marquee match of the day had seen Tottenham dominate early on until the goal enabled United, with five expensive debutants in their ranks, to take the points even though they only had one shot on target.
A late attacking flurry from Spurs was repelled by the hosts’ new Argentine keeper Sergio Romero.
Even if the fare was mediocre, Walker’s present on a warm, muggy lunchtime was the ideal 64th birthday gift for manager Louis van Gaal after a huge close season investment took United’s spending to about 230 million pounds in his 12 months at the helm.
Romero, replacing David De Gea, dropped because Van Gaal felt his mind would not be on the job amid speculation over his possible transfer to Real Madrid, made three late saves.
Italian defender Matteo Darmian, French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin and Dutch striker Memphis Depay also made useful first starts.
Germany’s World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, United’s highest-profile summer recruit, also gave a robust half-hour cameo in which he received a booking for a foul.
Spurs had been firmly in control until Nabil Bentaleb carelessly gave away possession in midfield allowing United to rampage down the right flank.
Ashley Young’s cross looked to have put Rooney in at point blank range only for Walker to dash back madly to rescue the situation before his attempt to rob the United captain saw him nudge the ball into the corner of his own net.
Watford, back in the top-flight for the first time in eight years with another new manager, Quique Sanchez Flores, and a completely revamped line-up, enjoyed a thrilling return at Goodison with Mexican Miguel Layun scoring his first goal for the club in the 14th minute.
After Ross Barkley had equalised with a dazzling effort, Odion Ighalo put the visitors ahead with seven minutes remaining before Arouna Kone equalised two minutes later.
Bournemouth, playing in the smallest ground ever to stage Premier League football, saw their party pooped by Rudy Gestede, Villa’s new signing from Blackburn Rovers who headed home a 72nd minute winner.
Championship playoff winners Norwich felt aggrieved after Crystal Palace carried on where they left off last season under Alan Pardew with goals from Wilfried Zaha and Damien Delaney either side of half time.
Nathan Redmond pulled one back and Norwich appeared to have a perfectly good goal by Cameron Jerome disallowed and a strong penalty appeal turned down before Yohan Cabaye sealed the victory in the dying minutes.
Sunderland’s manager Dick Advocaat, persuaded to shelve his retirement plans, could have been forgiven for rethinking his decision as they were hammered 4-2 at Leicester City.