Goals galore as the English Football League returns to action

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ll know that the Premier League season kicks off on August 17.

Two weeks from now.

But today England’s other 72 professional soccer teams began play in the Championship, League One and League Two, with plenty of enthralling action taking place.

Here’s a quick look at what happened on the first day of action in the lower-leagues of English soccer.

Championship

The big winners were Wigan Athletic, who began life in the second-tier in fine fashion thanks to a 4-0 win at Barnsley. The current FA Cup holders opened the scoring through Ben Watson before new signings from Norwich, Grant Holt and Leon Barnett, both scored on their debuts and Shaun Maloney rounded things off. Honduran Roger Espinoza was an unused sub for the Latics, while US defender Tim Ream was also kept on the bench as rivals Bolton and Burnley kicked things off with a 1-1 tie. Queens Park Rangers beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 despite going behind, as Andy Johnson grabbed the winner. Joey Barton was also a surprise starter for QPR after not featuring at all in preseason. And a good day for the three clubs relegated from the Premier League was rounded off by a 2-1 win for Nigel Adkins Reading side against Ipswich Town, as USMNT international Danny Williams went the full 90. New boys Bournemouth and Yeovil picked up wins after promotion from League One, while Paul Ince’s Blackpool impressively beat newcomers Doncaster 3-1 away from home.

League One

It was a case of goals galore on the opening day of action in England’s third-tier, as 36 goals were scored across the 12 games… and two of those fixtures were 0-0 ties. There was a dramatic 4-3 win for Oldham against Stevenage as Jose Baxter’s late penalty stole all three points. While Leyton Orient hammered Carlisle 5-1 to go top of the league. There was a cracker at Crewe, as they home side were leading 3-1 with four minutes to play. But two late goals from Rotherham United ensured a dramatic 3-3 tie at Gresty Road. While Crawley Town heaped more misery on Coventry City with a 3-2 win. Coventry had entered liquidation on Friday and were handed a 10 point penalty, despite that they fought back from 2-0 down to tie 2-2, before Crawley’s Mike Jones struck late on.

League Two

For relegated side Portsmouth it was a day to forget at Fratton Park. Despite going 1-0 up early on, Oxford United came roaring back to seal a comfortable 4-1 win over Pompey. Elsewhere the other big winner was newly promoted Welsh side Newport County. They celebrated their first season back in the football league in style by beating Accrington Stanley 4-1. The game marked Newport’s first game back in the top four professional divisions in over 25 years. Fleetwood Town beat Dagenham and Redbridge 3-1, and there were 1-0 wins for Southend against Plymouth, Wycombe over Morecambe and York edged past Northampton.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.