Bournemouth got off to the perfect start last weekend and Jack Critchley believes that Jason Tindall's men can claim successive Championship victories...
"Many fans are just hoping to see their side register, with the club having drawn a blank in four of their last seven league matches at this ground"
Toothless Boro to struggle against recently relegated opponents
Middlesbrough 2.829/5 v Bournemouth 2.747/4; The Draw 3.211/5
As part of the EFL's pilot scheme to get fans back into football stadiums, 1,000 supporters will be allowed into the Riverside Stadium this weekend to watch Middlesbrough vs Bournemouth. However, on recent evidence, many Teessiders may opt to stay at home instead. The club's recent record on their own patch is wretched, and they fared little better in the EFL Cup on Tuesday night. Despite out-shooting their opponents Barnsley 13-9, and having five efforts from inside the box, the hosts failed to hit the back of the net yet again. Admittedly, Neil Warnock gave a handful of fringe players the chance to impress, however, very few of them are likely to be staking a claim for a spot in the starting XI anytime soon.
Boro are searching for their first home Championship victory since Boxing Day, and although they edged past League One Shrewsbury in the first round of the EFL Cup, confidence appears to be in short supply. Many fans are just hoping to see their side register, with the club having drawn a blank in four of their last seven league matches at this ground. Only Sheffield Wednesday scored fewer home goals (19) than the Teesside outfit last season (20), and with only Marcus Tavernier and occasionally Lewis Wing seemingly capable of creating chances, Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher may be feeding off scraps once again this weekend.
The good news for Boro fans is that their team appear to be fairly solid at the other end of the field, and the addition of Marcus Bettinelli should help to bring some much-needed experience between the sticks. Sam Morsy appears to be a savvy addition in the centre of the park, but the lack of cutting edge in the squad must be addressed by the coaching staff over the next couple of weeks.
If the club are able to secure three points at the Riverside for the first time in almost nine months, Warnock won't be around to witness it with the former Cardiff boss having gone into isolation earlier this week.
Bournemouth appear to have the opposite problem, with new coach Jason Tindall overseeing a topsy-turvy 3-2 victory during his first game in charge at the weekend. The former defender took over from Eddie Howe this summer and has vowed to build on the legacy created by his predecessor. Although the Vitality Stadium has seen several high-profile departures over the last two months, the squad still contains plenty of quality with the likes of Dominic Solanke and Arnaut Danjuma likely to provide ample memorable moments in the final third this campaign.
Although they were reasonably lacklustre all over the pitch last season, the Cherries had real problems at the back, and they failed to keep a clean sheet in 33 of their 38 Premier League games. They looked suspect at times against Blackburn seven days ago, despite Rovers managing just two shots on target throughout the 90 minutes. Tindall's men took a significant step in the right direction with a clean sheet in the cup on Tuesday night, and they should be able to build upon that shutout on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors are coming up against one of the division's weakest attacks, and they should be able to capitalise on Boro's profligacy in front of goal. The hosts didn't do much wrong against an under-strength Watford last weekend, but they just don't look particularly threatening and Bournemouth have far more match-winners in their squad.
At 2.68/5 on the Exchange, the Cherries look superb value, and they are likely to inflict a third consecutive defeat on their shot-shy hosts.
Rams to remain winless
Luton 2.829/5 v Derby 2.77/4; The Draw 3.211/5
Mel Morris has spoken of his desire to have 50% of Derby's match-day squad made up of academy graduates. It is a terrific ambition, and one which will undoubtedly bear fruit in the long run, yet the lack of experience was telling against Reading last weekend. Wayne Rooney managed just half an hour against the Royals, and even though the club are carefully re-introducing the former England captain to the line-up, his return can't come soon enough for Rams fans.
Supporters have bemoaned Derby's slow build-up play, with Phillip Cocu's side seeing plenty of the ball, but doing very little with it. The Dutchman must find a way to improve his team's end product, and although exciting winger Kamil Jozwiak has arrived from Lech Poznan, the Polish wizard may take a couple of weeks to acclimatise to life in the second tier.
Although it was a slightly improved performance against Preston in the EFL Cup in midweek, the East Midlanders were still out-shot 16-7 and managed just three notable efforts from inside the box. If they are to start climbing the Championship table, they are going to need offer far more in the final third over the coming weeks.
With further additions expected to arrive in the coming weeks, there is little doubt that Derby will eventually find themselves at the right end of the Championship table, however, their slow start could potentially hold them back.
Luton continued where they left off last season with a comfortable 1-0 victory over Barnsley at Oakwell. Nathan Jones has made some key additions this summer, and although they still look far too short up front, they are solid and hard to break down. They managed another clean sheet in the EFL Cup on Tuesday night when keeping a youthful Reading side off the score-sheet, and they will be full of confidence coming into this tie.
Since Jones' return, the Bedfordshire outfit have tended to be better equipped to play on the road, however, they have suffered just a single defeat in their last seven matches at this ground, and they are unlikely to go down without a fight. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Luke Berry and James Collins all caught the eye seven days ago, whilst the partnership of Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley appears to finally be clicking.
With very little separating these two sides in the betting, it makes sense to take Luton Draw No Bet at 10/11 on the Sportsbook. The Welshman has got his side fighting for every ball, and they never know when they're beaten. Although too many home draws held them back last season, the Hatters should be able to take something from this tie, and with the Rams undoubtedly set to improve as the season progresses, it could be the perfect time to face Cocu's troops.
Norwich to make it successive Championship victories
Norwich 1.8810/11 v Preston 4.77/2; The Draw 3.711/4
Although Norwich were my ante-post pick in the Championship, I was a little concerned about the possibility of a hangover which has the tendency to engulf recently relegated sides. However, I needn't have been overly worried with the Canaries leaving it late to strike against Huddersfield seven days ago. Daniel Farke's men played some superb stuff along the way, and the stats show that they were good value for the three points. Prior to Adam Idah's match-winning strike, the East Anglian outfit had managed to fire in 16 shots, 10 of which were from inside the penalty area, and they also comfortably won the XG battle (2.3 to 0.3).
The hosts will be expected to build upon that success, and having already been dumped out of the EFL Cup, they've had a full seven days to prepare for the visit of Preston. Although outgoings are still expected, Farke has a big enough squad at his disposal to mix things up if the game isn't going according to plan, and there will be plenty of options available to him in the final third. Oliver Skipp impressed on his Championship debut whilst Onel Hernandez looked far more comfortable back at this level.
Preston put their opening day blank firmly behind them when turning the tables on Derby in the cup on Tuesday night. The Lilywhites were helped by the hosts lack of discipline and Daniel Johnson's cool head from 12 yards. It was a victory which was thoroughly deserved, with Darnell Fisher and Jayden Stockley looking particularly impressive at Pride Park.
PNE ended the 2019-20 campaign with a 6-8-9 record on the road, and with all six of their away victories coming against sides who finished the campaign in the bottom eight, they often struggled against the division's leading light on their travels. As a result, they aren't fancied to pick up anything from this encounter, and Alex Neil's men may have to wait a little while longer to accrue their first points of the new season.
They don't have a particularly bad record at this ground, losing just one of their last five, however, they are unlikely to take all three points back to Lancashire this weekend.
Norwich are short at 1.8810/11 on the Exchange, but they are likely to go off at much skinnier prices as the season progresses, so it's worth taking them at odds-on to take maximum points and inflict more misery on their former boss.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7
Middlesbrough vs Bournemouth - Bournemouth Win @ 2.68/5 (Exchange)
Luton vs Derby - Luton Draw No Bet @ 10/11 (Sportsbook)
Norwich vs Preston - Norwich Win @ 1.8810/11 (Exchange)