The Sky Bet EFL season kicks-off on Friday night as Luton welcome Middlesbrough to Kenilworth Road. Tom Carnduff picks out his best bets.
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Luton finished the 2018/19 campaign as champions of Sky Bet League One, and they have the honour of kicking off the new EFL season.
They welcome Middlesbrough to Kenilworth Road, and while the Hatters are among the favourites for the drop, they should secure victory on opening day.
Boro are a side who come into this game with a squad that has shown little improvement on last season, although we should see a better brand of football.
One outgoing at the club is Aden Flint. While he didn't manage to hit his usual heights during his season at the club, it does leave them short at the back.
Dael Fry is still a few weeks away from full fitness which means we will see a centre-back pairing of Daniel Ayala and Ryan Shotton. The duo have little experience as a partnership and it showed at times during pre-season.
They may also be without first-choice goalkeeper Darren Randolph, who has missed a significant part of pre-season, while question marks remain over captain George Friend's fitness.
This should be a home victory. A team in Boro's situation do not want to open the campaign against a Luton side in high spirits following a title-winning campaign. The crowd will be on top of them at Kenilworth Road and that should reflect in the atmosphere.
They look good value at a price of 19/10, which is worth taking, but one of the best bets in this game is nearer to the 3s mark and that is Ayala being shown a card.
The defence is a worry heading into this one and Luton possess a striker in James Collins who brings a physical presence as well as goals.
Ayala has a reputation for a questionable temperament at times, often contributing to the eleven yellows and one red card he received last season, and he'll have his hands full as he attempts to keep Collins quiet.
His first two games in 2018/19 saw cautions, and there would be little surprise to see the same outcome here.
Lining-up to Ayala's right is likely to be Jonny Howson. A central midfielder by trade, he was utilised as a wing-back in the second-half of last season.
Five of the seven cards he picked up in the 2018/19 campaign came when playing in that position, and he too could be a name of interest to the referee.
Score prediction: Luton Town 2-1 Middlesbrough (Sky Bet odds: 9/1)
Best bet: Daniel Ayala to be shown a card at 11/4
- Luton and Middlesbrough haven’t faced in a league match since April 1995, a 2-1 win for Middlesbrough in the final ever match at Ayresome Park.
- At Kenilworth Road, the last league meeting between Luton and Middlesbrough ended in a 5-1 victory for the Hatters in October 1994 under manager David Pleat.
- Luton Town last started a league season at Kenilworth Road in 2017-18, when they hammered Yeovil Town 8-2 – becoming the first team to score eight goals in an opening day Football League match since Wolves in August 1962.
- Middlesbrough have won on the opening day of a Football League season in just two of the last 18 seasons (W2 D8 L8), last winning away from home on MD1 in 2000-01 in the Premier League at Coventry City.
- Luton Town are competing in the Championship for the first time since 2006-07 – they lost their last seven home games of that season but are currently unbeaten in 27 home league matches (W20 D7 L0) since losing 1-2 to Accrington Stanley in March 2018.
- The last seven permanent Middlesbrough managers have all lost their first league match in charge – Steve McClaren (2001), Gareth Southgate (2006), Gordon Strachan (2009), Tony Mowbray (2010), Aitor Karanka (2013), Garry Monk (2017) and Tony Pulis (2017).
Odds correct at 1340 BST (01/08/19)