The new Championship season gets underway on Friday night as Watford welcome Middlesbrough to Vicarage Road. Mark O'Haire analyses the odds.
"Matches involving Watford and Middlesbrough have rarely been thrilling affairs down the years, although Friday night’s opener has the potential to produce"
Watford v Middlesbrough
Friday September 11, 19:45
Watford determined to bounce back
Watford return to the Championship after five years as a top-flight club. New manager Vladimir Ivic - a title winner with Maccabi Tel Aviv in his most recent coaching stint - takes over a bloated but talented squad capable of mounting an immediate bounce back challenge, and the Serbian believes his side can handle the pressure in 2020/21.
The Hornets have enjoyed a positive pre-season, with victories in warm-up matches against both Tottenham and Scunthorpe, although little can be gleaned from the groups friendly fixtures. Instead, supporters could be encouraged by Ivic's ideals for implementing an intense style of football that's geared to be efficient, effective and destructive in nature.
A much-changed and youthful Watford XI faced Spurs last time so forecasting team news at this stage is tricky. Nevertheless, new signings Jeremy Ngakia and Glenn Murray are expected to feature but Troy Deeney's inclusion is doubtful and Ismaila Sarr, Gerrard Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure won't be involved as moves away from Vicarage Road gather pace.
Middlesbrough struggling to strengthen
Championship veteran Neil Warnock guided Middlesbrough to safety last season, overseeing a return of 12 points from eight games in charge. The Boro hierarchy were impressed with the 71-year-old's work and opted to offer the wily campaigner a one-year extension, along with trusted assistants Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson.
Warnock said after signing his new deal he wants to "build something" with Boro but the Teessiders have struggled to transform their squad in the shortened summer, landing only one new arrival. Grant Hall is a capable capture to strengthen the defence but the Reds will require more if they're to realise lofty ambitions for a charge at the Championship play-offs.
Marcus Bettinelli is set to join Middlesbrough to ease the club's goalkeeper concerns ahead of Friday's curtain-raiser, whilst Paddy McNair will make a welcome return from international duty. Meanwhile, Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher have both impressed in pre-season and could be partnered together in a two-man Boro attack.
Hornets odds-on favourites
Watford and Middlesbrough are meeting for the first time since two dour second-tier showdowns in 2016/17. The Hornets boast an unbeaten six-game streak when facing-off against Boro (W6-D6-L0) going back to 2012 and the hosts come into this contest having suffered a solitary home reverse against the Teessiders here in over two decades.
Watford [1.95] posted mid-table form when welcoming Premier League opposition during their relegated campaign (W6-D6-L7) and enjoyed a W4-D1-L1 return when taking on teams in 17th and below. Even so, Friday is the beginning of a new era under Vladimir Ivic and it's difficult to know who or how the Hornets will set-up, making odds-on quotes unappealing.
Exclude the top-six and Middlesbrough [4.20] produced a reasonable W6-D6-L5 when taking to the road during 2019/20. The Teessiders collected five triumphs in their final six Championship away days, four of which arrived under Neil Warnock's tutorship. However, Boro were beaten in 10 of 12 duels against sides that concluded the campaign in the top-six.
Matches involving Watford and Middlesbrough have rarely been thrilling affairs down the years, although Friday night's opener has the potential to produce.
Watford's squad is one of the second-tier's strongest on paper and therefore, whomever Vladimir Ivic opts for in attack should be capable of causing problems for a Boro backline that's short on numbers and rarely excelled in the most recent Championship campaign.
With that in mind, a tentative play on the even-money available for Both Teams To Score stands out. Neil Warnock's visitors still possess a twin-threat in attack and are likely to take a proactive approach at Vicarage Road, as seen under the veteran's early encounters.
Mark's 2019/20 Profit/Loss
Staked: 188.00 pts
Returned: 207.09 pts
P/L: +19.09 pts