EFL Championship

New Luton boss Jones awaits Championship baptism of fire — as Leeds look to find Promised Land

New Luton Town boss Graeme Jones faces something of a baptism of fire on Friday when he takes charge of the newly-promoted Hatters as they host Middlesbrough in the first Sky Bet Championship fixture of the 2019/20 campaign.

Jones, who has previously worked under Spanish coach Roberto Martinez (notably as an assistant coach of the Belgium national side as well as No.2 to Darren Moore at West Bromwich Albion), picks up where Mick Harford left off.

Luton’s legendary former striker Harford took over when Nathan Jones departed for Stoke City and helped to guide the Kenilworth Road outfit to promotion from Sky Bet League One as champions last term. Jones will come up against a Boro side bossed by former central defender Jonathan Woodgate, who took over the role at the Riverside following Tony Pulis’s exit at the end of last season.

In readiness for their toils, Luton have snapped up seven new players, the latest being Derby County midfielder Jacob Butterfield on a free transfer after the Rams agreed to bring an end to his deal. And the schemer, who is aged 29 and formerly played for both Huddersfield and Barnsley, told the club’s official website:

“It’s a big season, a really exciting time for the club, and I’m delighted. They are great lads. I settled in straight away. They are a welcoming bunch and I’ve been really impressed so far.”

Of the games that kick-off the season proper on Saturday the tussle between hosts Nottingham Forest and West Bromwich brims with promise, while Queens Park Rangers’ trip to Stoke City, who lost enforcer Ryan Shawcross with a broken leg last week in a hideous accident, should be one of great intrigue and intensity. Other stand-out encounters come at Brentford who welcome Birmingham City and Fulham, relegated from the Premier League last time of asking, going to no-nonsense Barnsley desperate for an early slice of luck and joy to kick-start their quest to get back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.

The spotlight on Sunday turns to Leeds United, who agonisingly missed out on promotion last season, as they look to justify the bookies as one of the hot favourites to win promotion this term. They go to Bristol City without two key players in the shape of Luke Ayling and Kemar Roofe. The former will sit out the start of the Championship season after an operation on his ankle, while there are uncertainties about the latter’s fitness and availability after he sustained a knock on his ankle in the Elland Road side’s friendly win over Western Sydney Warriors in Australia. As for the hosts at Ashton Gate, they look poised to be without the services of defender Adam Webster with Premier League Brighton said to be close to completing a £20million deal to take him to the Seagulls.

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