Express & Star

Steve Bruce: Middlesbrough the toughest start for West Brom

Manager Steve Bruce believes Middlesbrough away is the toughest fixture Albion could have faced on the opening day of the new season.

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The Baggies travel to the Riverside Stadium on Saturday for their first match of the 2022/23 campaign.

And they will come up against a team who are widely expected to be in the promotion race with them – with manager Chris Wilder having had a huge impact in Teesside since replacing Neil Warnock last season.

Before a ball has been kicked, Albion are the third favourites to win promotion this season with odds of 9/1 – with Norwich (6/1) and Watford (7/1) the current favourites.

Middlesbrough, though, are fourth favourites, with the bookmakers pricing them at 10/1.

Asked about the game at Middlesbrough, Bruce said: “I don’t think we could’ve picked a more difficult one.

“They’re going to be there or thereabouts under Chrissy, that’s for sure.

“It’s about to start. I’m pleased it’s about to start – I think we’ve all got to the end of our tether with friendlies, I certainly have.

“The real ball comes out on Saturday and we have to make sure we are ready.”

Albion finished a disappointing 10th in the Championship last season, their lowest finish for 20 years.

But they have had an excellent summer in the transfer market. In John Swift and Jed Wallace Bruce has signed two players who are widely seen as among the best in the division.

And in Okay Yokuslu, the Baggies have signed a Turkish international who should shine in English football’s second tier.

And Bruce understands those additions mean there is an expectation on Albion to compete for automatic promotion.

“That’s the demand but that’s why I walked through the door here,” the boss added.

“I’ve said it many times – last year was the worst in 20 years, so we all have to live with that and cope with the expectation.

“We have some good players to deal with that, we understand where we need to be. That’s never going to change.”