THE new EFL campaign kicks-off on Friday night as Luton welcome Middlesbrough to Kenilworth Road. Tom Love (@TomLove_18) inspects the odds.
Luton v Middlesbrough | Friday 2nd August 2019, 19:45
It’s back! The 2019/20 Football League season kicks-off at Kenilworth Road on Friday night with Championship new boys Luton hosting a Middlesbrough team in transition.
Let’s start with the Hatters. They were phenomenal last year as they stormed League One to take gold. Although popular manager Nathan Jones was plucked by Stoke mid-campaign, the Bedfordshire outfit managed to ride that wave and carry on as they had done in the first half of the season under club legend Mick Harford.
Harford was only given the gig on a temporary basis until the end of the season though and therefore the board moved to bring in highly thought-of coach Graeme Jones to the club. Jones has played in the lower tiers of England and Scotland back in the day but has impressed as part of Roberto Martinez’s backroom staff at Swansea, Wigan, Everton and Belgium national's side. He was in the running for the first-team gig at both Burnley and Swansea before they appointed Sean Dyche and Michael Laudrup respectively. It shows he is highly regarded in the domestic coaching arena.
It’s a tough task he has on his hands though, seeing the excellent full-back duo of Jack Stacey and James Justin depart is a crucial blow. And although the money received for the pair will help the club in their long term plans, their replacements in Martin Cranie and Brendan Galloway don’t look to be up to the same level, in my eyes.
Luton tended to opt for a narrow diamond midfield which allowed the aforementioned full-backs to have the freedom of the wings to themselves. Whether they can be as attacking and still as successful in the Championship must be a question mark. A lot of the 18/19 crop that remain in situ have rarely, if at all, plied their trade as high up as the second flight and how they adapt is still somewhat of an unknown.
What they should have though is a natural buoyancy that comes with promotion, they’ll always fancy their chances at the unique Kenilworth Road, they were unbeaten their last term let’s not forget.
On the surface of it, you’d look at Middlesbrough and think they’ve done little to develop from last season. They’ve trimmed their squad to be one of the tightest in the league and only added two new faces. That usually means disgruntled fans and a pessimistic vibe around the club however this situation is far from it.
Ex-Boro centre-half Jonathan Woodgate has taken the mantle from the much maligned Tony Pulis and that’s a move by the likeable chairman Steve Gibson that’s got the fans onside. The Riverside faithful were fed up with Pulis’ turgid, unattractive football and although results weren’t terrible it drove fans away and this change simply had to be made.
You could argue that any new face in the dugout would have been a boost to the Teeside club but it’s what the new gaffer has been saying that’s got fans optimistic. Woodgate has promised a more attacking approach focusing on pressing opposition and being the team with the ascendency. Surely the players will see that as music to their ears after years of simply lacking freedom when going forward.
Marc Bola and Marcus Browne have come in to bring the average age of the squad down and inject some added freshness into the roster. Bola was superb for Blackpool last season and was probably second best in the league behind Justin. Browne impressed at Oxford and has smashed them in for West Ham in the youth sides in the past, but they don’t see him ready for the Premier League – he could be used as an impact player off the bench.
The betting angles
Onto the match up itself and the bookies can’t split the two as both are rated as 9/5 shots to win in 90 minutes, with the draw available at best price 12/5. I’d probably have Boro as slight favourites here but with home advantage Luton can’t be disrespected in the market.
The standout bet for me here is the 17/20 (William Hill) on Both Teams To Score. It’s a bet you’d have seldom gone to when Pulis was in charge of the away side but their renewed attacking approach should mean they’re more potent going forward but possibly a bit more vulnerable defensively.
Luton were high on all the attacking data metrics last season, regularly creating great chances. They do have the quality in forward areas to score here with the likes of James Collins, Harry Cornick, Andrew Shinnie and Danny Hylton. Boro have their own threat though, most namely Britt Assombalonga.
Assombalonga returned from the Africa Cup of Nations playing for DR Congo a few weeks back and score a hat-trick in a friendly against Salford on his return. He more than anybody will be looking forward to this shift in approach, he played in an attacking team at Peterborough and thrived, he’s the man to put them away for Boro this season.
Working closely with attacking coach Robbie Keane will only be of benefit to him and the staff have been effusive in their praise for the club record signing. He is a confidence player and they’ve seemed to install that in him. As the chief threat and best striker on the pitch, the 15/8 quotes (Betfair) on him scoring on Friday night look generous.
Luton v Middlesbrough – Both Teams To Score (17/20 William Hill)
Luton v Middlesbrough – Britt Assombalonga to score at anytime (15/8 Betfair)