Middlesbrough vs West Brom predictions: Low-scoring affair at the Riverside
Two promotion hopefuls get their Championship campaigns up and running at the Riverside on Saturday with Middlesbrough hosting West Brom at 5.30pm.
Boro missed out on a spot in last season's play-offs by five points as they finished in seventh place.
But the improvement they showed under Chris Wilder, who was appointed in November, suggests they can make a stronger push for promotion in the manager's first full year at the helm.
The Baggies also switched personnel in the dugout after Steve Bruce replaced Valerien Ismael in February with the club sitting sixth at the time, although the former Newcastle boss failed to get the results needed and his side ended up in 10th.
Wilder and Bruce boast a wealth of managerial experience and with both adding reinforcements to their respective squads during the summer transfer window, the expectation will be for the two outfits to challenge for promotion.
Facing each other on the opening day of the season may not be a bad thing as there would be plenty of time to iron out any issues that may crop up.
But this contest is unlikely to be laden with goals as these two tacticians favour a more defence-minded approach.
Middlesbrough will be without the suspended Paddy McNair, who was sent off against Preston on the final day of last season, meaning Dael Fry or Marc Bola will likely take his place.
Tommy Smith is expected to be given a spot on the bench, having only recently arrived on a free transfer, while Marcus Tavernier's transfer to Bournemouth is edging closer and his impending exit could offer a chance to Josh Coburn.
West Brom could have Okay Yokuslu among the substitutes, although he is facing a race against time to be fit, while Karlan Grant is expected to retain his spot up front ahead of Daryl Dike.
Saturday's clash will be the 100th meeting between these two clubs, with Middlesbrough claiming 41 victories to West Brom's 34, while there have been 24 draws.
In the two games last season, Boro claimed a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns before recording a 2-1 home victory — McNair and Tavernier both netted for the Teessiders in that triumph.
Wilder's men were solid at the back in the 2021-22 campaign, conceding 50 goals to boast the joint eighth-best record in the division, while they scored 59 times at the other end.
Bruce's troops were even better in defence as they allowed just 45 goals — a record only the three promoted teams bettered — but they struggled in attack and netted a mere 52 times, with only six teams enduring a worse record.
Since the 61-year-old Englishman was appointed, West Brom have lost five of their eight away league games and failed to score in four of those matches during that run.
Boro have enjoyed a good home record since the arrival of Wilder, losing just four out of 15 league outings at the Riverside, and they are unbeaten in the last three meetings with the Baggies.
There is the feeling these two squads are not quite completed yet and there is still transfer business to be done, so the starting XIs on show on Saturday will by no means be the finished articles.
With neither side wanting to give anything away in the opening match, this could turn out to be a cagey affair and it would be no surprise to see the pair share the spoils.
Although the corresponding fixture last season finished in a 2-1 home win, it is worth noting that seven of the last nine meetings between these two have featured two goals or less.