Kick-off: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Kevin Friend
The curious resurgence of Middlesbrough continues apace, with the newly-promoted Premier League side, whose manager Aitor Karanka walked out on the club for a few days in March before deciding to go back, clear favourites at 5/4 with bwin to beat Stoke at the Riverside Stadium.
Whatever happened with Karanka towards the end of last season, when assistant Steve Agnew was forced to take charge agianst Charlton, Boro’s return to the top flight after seven years away was hard fought.
After taking over from Tony Mowbray in October 2013, when Middlesbrough were 16th in the Championship, the former Real Madrid defender led his new side to 12th, then fourth the following season, ending in play-off final heartbreak, before snatching second behind Burnley in May.
They managed as much despite scoring the fewest goals of any side in the top six, and three less than 20th-placed Fulham, with Dave Nugent’s tally of eight the most any Boro player managed over the Championship campaign.
Nine new players have headed to Teesside so far this summer, the most purchases made by any Premier League club, with former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo, Danish hotshot Viktor Fischer and veteran keepers Victor Valdes and Brad Guzan looking particularly shrewd captures.
They’ll have to be, because taking on a Stoke side replete with former Barcelona boys and Euro 2016 stars is a big step up from Rotherham away, where Karanka’s crowd lost in March.
Mark Hughes has added sparingly this summer, after the Potters shelled out more than £30m over the past 12 months on just Xherdan Shaqiri and Giannelli Imbula, with Wales midfield dynamo Joe Allen and Egyptian youngster Ramadan Sobhi freshening up the squad.
Taking into account each side’s form at the end of last term, this match appears to have draw written all over it, but expect goals from an edgy encounter.
Recommended bets: 1-1 draw @ 19/4 and 2-2 draw @ 31/2