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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.

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.

With Harry Clarke remaining on the sidelines for a number of weeks, Stoke boss O’Neill must decide whether to keep young defender Tom Sparrow at right wing-back.

An alternative is restoring Phil Jagielka to the back three and using Ben Wilmot as a make-shift wing-back.

Tyrese Campbell is expected to be restored to the starting lineup in place of Jacob Brown or Dwight Gayle.

Dael Fry could retain his spot in the Middlesbrough XI having only been withdrawn at half time against Sheffield United due to tactical reasons.

Matthew Hoppe is pushing for a start in attack, potentially in place of Akpom who needed to be withdrawn with a niggle during the closing seconds of the last match.

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Mowatt also comes into contention for his first start after featuring off the substitutes’ bench at the weekend.

Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Bursik; Taylor, Jagielka, Flint; Wilmot, Baker, Laurent, Smallbone, Tymon; Brown, Campbell

Middlesbrough possible starting lineup:
Steffen, Dijksteel, Lenihan, Fry; Jones, Howson, McNair, Giles; McGree; Forss, Hoppe

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