Middlesbrough v Sheffield United
Saturday 12th August, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports
Middlesbrough - No midweek cup game a small bonus
Middlesbrough made a losing start to life back in the Championship when going down 1-0 at Wolves but new manager Garry Monk - who handed half a dozen players their Boro debut - believed his team were worthy of a point at Molineux.
The Teessiders started slowly and were made to pay for Dani Ayala's misplaced pass during a timid opening 45 minutes. However, after the break Monk's men were the more likely with record signing Britt Assombalonga squandering a couple of decent chances.
Middlesbrough managed only five attempts at goal with Ashley Fletcher and Martin Braithwaite struggling to make major inroads but without the distraction of a midweek cup match, home fans will be expecting an improved 90-minute performance at the Riverside here.
Sheffield United - Going for nine straight league wins
Sheffield United outclassed the rest of League One last season, rattling in 92 goals en-route to claiming the third-tier title. And last weekend the Blades kicked-off their Championship campaign with a 1-0 triumph over highly-fancied Brentford at Bramall Lane.
Billy Sharp grabbed his 31st goal since the start of last season - more than any other player in the top four tiers of English football - to make it eight successive league victories for United - that's their best sequence since Neil Warnock was in charge way back in 2005.
The Blades may have had two goals disallowed against the Bees and produced a relentless and tenacious display but it's well worth noting Chris Wilder's troops fired in only two attempts on-target and were beaten 0.67 - 1.61 on the Expected Goals count.
Unsurprisingly, recently relegated Middlesbrough have been chalked up as pre-match favourites for Saturday's showdown but even so, punters should be seduced by the generous 1.97 odds on offer for a home success here.
No bottom-half Premier League club conceded fewer goals than the Teessiders last term whilst Arsenal faced only five fewer shots on-target than Boro. That outstanding base should stand the side in good stead alongside their impressive additions to the attack.
Sheffield United 4.50 are unbeaten since January in league football although the Blades did fail to pick up maximum points in their five trips to fellow top-six sides in League One during their title campaign. League Cup commitments on Wednesday night are unlikely to help their cause.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Middlesbrough weren't often involved in high-scoring contests during their ill-fated Premier League season - just 17 (45%) crept over the 2.5 goals line with games averaging a paltry 2.11 goals per-game.
However, there's plenty of reason to believe Boro might excite this time around. With chairman Steve Gibson proclaiming he wants his team to "smash the Championship", there's an ambition to play more front-foot football under Monk.
Visitors Sheffield United conceded more goals than three of the four teams directly below in League One while 17/23 (74%) of their away days broke the Over 2.5 Goals 2.16 barrier with the same figure seeing Both Teams To Score bank.
Britt Assombalonga made an encouraging start to life with Middlesbrough despite failing to get on the scoresheet during his debut at Wolves. The £15m man was Boro's chief threat in attacking areas and should see more goalscoring opportunities arrive his way on Saturday evening.
With a goal ratio of one every 130 minutes last term and a return of 30 goals from 47 starts for Nottingham Forest over the past two terms, the striker is the obvious candidate to break the deadlock.
Assombalonga opened the scoring in eight of the nine games in which he scored last season and is well worth an interest at 5.80 quotes to grab the first goal.
Back Middlesbrough to win 1.97
Back Britt Assombalonga to score first @ 5.80
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