Sunderland v Derby
Friday 4th August, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Following four years of Premier League survival by the skin of their teeth, the Black Cat's luck ran out and Sunderland's stay in the top-tier came to an abrupt end. The Wearsiders suffered 26 league losses and eventually finished 16 points adrift of safety.
However, Sunderland have pulled off a real coup with the capture of Simon Grayson - the perfect candidate for a major rebuild following four-and-a-half outstanding years in charge of Preston. Grayson's won promotion at every club he's managed thus far and although top-six aims seem a little far-fetched, the Black Cats should at least remain competitive throughout the campaign.
Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe are arguably the only major losses and with little money to spend, filling those gaps has proven a tricky task. Nevertheless, Aiden McGeady arrives after a superb loan spell with Grayson at North End and experienced forward James Vaughan can fire when fit.
Derby spent only three December days in the Championship's play-off positions following a turbulent campaign that saw the Rams go through four different managers under impatient owner Mel Morris.
Hope springs eternal around Pride Park that County have finally found the right man to take the side forward. Gary Rowett is renowned for organising his side's from the back and Derby certainly picked up during his short spell towards the 2016/17 campaign's conclusion under his watch.
That defence has been strengthened with the additions of Curtis Davies and Andre Wisdom while Tom Huddlestone's class and George Thorne's forthcoming return from injury at least eases the pain of losing Tom Ince and Will Hughes.
Sunderland have been chalked up as 2.46 favourites to clinch an opening evening victory but over the past six seasons, relegated clubs have returned just W6-D3-L9 in their curtain-raising clash - a win percentage of just 33% and implied odds of 3.03.
Admittedly, only four of those 18 fixtures were hosted by relegated sides and their W3-D0-L1 results bolster both figures. But it would be unrealistic not to presume that a certain hangover exists when clubs are in the midst of major transitional periods, like the Black Cats.
Derby 3.25 W4-D3-L2 under Rowett's watch last term but the Rams were poor travelling to teams in the upper echelons of the league; County secured only W2-D2-L9 at clubs in 14th and above, failing to score on eight occasions.
Those figures are off-putting enough to swerve the Match Odds where the outsider of the three outcomes, the draw, is arguably the standout selection at 3.40. Although the 2.28 on the settled visitors in the Draw No Bet market is probably our wisest play with Sunderland winless in their season opener for seven years and Derby unbeaten in eight curtain-raisers.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Only Wigan (2.11 goals per-game) and Aston Villa (2.07) were involved in lower-scoring games than Derby (2.26) last term but the Rams did finish with a flourish under Rowett - seven of their final nine featured Both Teams To Score winners whilst six surpassed the two-goal line.
However, such trends aren't backed up by Rowett's previous figures at Birmingham and Burton and a regression to the norm seems most likely. Transfer business also suggests Derby will be built from the back and so 1.82 quotes on Under 2.5 Goals are fair enough.
Only 18/46 (39%) of the Rams outings last term broke the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, including just 9/23 (39%) away days. So until we get a clear picture on County's approach, and a firmer look at Sunderland's credentials under Grayson, it's best to leave the goals markets alone.
Back Derby draw no bet @ 2.28
Back the draw @ 3.40
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