Stoke City and Middlesbrough square off at the bet365 Stadium on Wednesday night with both clubs having endured disappointing starts to the season.
The teams have just one win between them from their opening three fixtures, leaving them in 16th and 19th position in the Championship standings respectively.
As one of the pre-season promotion favourites, Chris Wilder certainly did not expect to see his Middlesbrough side down at the lower end of the table without a win to their name.
That is despite a testing triple-header of West Bromwich Albion, Queens Park Rangers and his former club Sheffield United, but Wilder may feel that the signs are there that his team are finding their way.
Salvaging a point from their meeting with the Blades on Sunday could prove crucial for momentum, their goals in the 2-2 draw at the Riverside Stadium coming from a player in Chuba Akpom who appeared to be on his way out of the club.
If, as Wilder has hinted, Akpom stays at the club, he faces having to engineer other outgoings to balance the squad, and there appears plenty of work ahead for Wilder despite overseeing nine incomings thus far.
The latest of those is Alex Mowatt on loan from West Bromwich Albion, the midfielder having the potential to make a different in the centre of the pitch.
From Stoke’s perspective, a trip to winless Huddersfield Town on Saturday represented the perfect opportunity to establish themselves in the top six.
However, the Potters squandered numerous opportunities at the John Smith’s Stadium – included a first-half penalty – and Michael O’Neill was left bitterly disappointed with a 3-1 reverse in Yorkshire.
Given the widespread changes to his first-team squad, the Northern Irishman would have been expecting better than three points from his team’s opening triple-header, and pressure remains on the Potters boss to get things right.
Consecutive home fixtures against Boro and Sunderland are to come, before Stoke face the challenge of making the trip to leaders Blackburn Rovers on August 27.
Such is the unpredictability of the Championship that anything can happen over those three games, but Stoke need to respond in a positive way to give supporters the feeling that they are making progress under O’Neill.
Stoke City Championship form:
Stoke City form (all competitions):
Middlesbrough Championship form:
Middlesbrough form (all competitions):
We say: Stoke City 1-2 Middlesbrough
At some point, the likelihood is that forward lines with plenty of quality will eventually find some form, and that could be the case on Wednesday. However, we feel that there is a greater vulnerability about Stoke, leading us to predict a narrow victory for the visitors.