Luton v Middlesbrough
Friday August 2, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Luton back where they belong
Luton were crowned kings of League One last season after blitzing the division between mid-August and early April (W25-D11-L2). The Hatters' fine form included a club record 28-game unbeaten streak, whilst Town also concluded the campaign unbeaten at their Kenilworth Road base (W16-D7-L0) and smashed 90 goals en-route to top spot.
The Bedfordshire boys' remarkable back-to-back promotion arrived despite the loss of departing head coach Nathan Jones in January. However, the philosophy and culture implemented by the regime was so engrained that even his exit failed to derail the Luton juggernaut as Mick Harford stepped in to keep the Hatters' on auto-pilot.
Graeme Jones took charge this summer, although his preparations have been hampered by the sales of flying full-backs Jack Stacey and James Justin. The new boss admitted last weekend's 5-1 thumping by Norwich in the club's final pre-season showdown was a "wake-up call" for his side who return to the second-tier for the first time since 2006.
New era begins at Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough also begin 2019/20 under new management following the axing of Tony Pulis. Long-term chairman Steve Gibson has handed the reigns to local lad Jonathan Woodgate with the former captain committed to playing a more enterprising, front-foot style to entertain The Riverside faithful following the dour tenure of his predecessor.
With finances tight on Teesside, Woodgate has been unable to make sweeping changes. The new number one has promised to invest in Boro's burgeoning academy prospects as he bids to build a new identity, although the recent arrivals of Marc Bola and Marcus Brown provide much-needed numbers and further untapped Championship potential.
Middlesbrough's squad still appears overly stocked in central areas, lacking pace, width and invention but Woodgate appears confident he can overcome outstanding issues. The Boro boss will be without George Friend and Dael Fry on Friday so expect Bola to feature from the off, whilst Darren Randolph is on course to recover in time to stand between the sticks.
Hatters can keep home record intact
Luton and Middlesbrough are meeting in league action for the first time since 1995 and the Hatters will hope to extend a few bleak opening records that linger over the visitors. Boro have tabled just two triumphs in their last 18 EFL openers (W2-D8-L8), whilst the last seven permanent managers of the Teessiders have lost their first league match in charge.
Town head into the campaign curtain-raiser as 2.9015/8 outsiders. The hosts are unbeaten in 27 league fixtures (W20-D7-L0) at Kenilworth Road dating back to March 2018, although it's worth nothing that Luton managed just W5-D7-L6 when taking on top-10 League One clubs last term and their pre-season preparations provide slight concern for home backers.
Middlesbrough are 2.747/4 to begin their new era with maximum points. Boro produced their best work when taking on teams in the bottom-half under Tony Pulis (W14-D8-L2), whilst only promoted pair Norwich and Sheffield United suffered fewer defeats on their travels. However, second-guessing the 2019/20 crop is tricky and so a stalemate appeals at 3.3512/5.
Take a watching goals brief
Luton were side to support for goals in League One last term. The Hatters struck three times or more on 13 occasions and plundered at least two goals in all bar four of their home outings. But the departures of key components James Justin and Jack Stacey, plus a potential move away from their preferred diamond system, could stall attacking ambition.
Middlesbrough were a punters Unders friend under Tony Pulis, although such trends can be ignored following the appointment of forward-thinking Jonathan Woodgate. With two untested bosses in the dugout, it may pay to take a watching brief on Friday night, even though Over 2.5 Goals line is currently the outsider as a 2.0811/10 chance.