Indeed Saunders, last seen plying his trade in this country with Sheffield United in the First Division, did not think his international registration would be completed in time for him to play following his free transfer from Benfica.
Not that he was on the pitch for long. He came on as an 82nd-minute substitute and scored Bradford's first Premiership goal six minutes later, converting Lee Mills pass despite Paul Gascoigne's lunging tackle and Mark Schwarzer's dive. "Dean has played at the highest level most of his life and I knew he was the sort of personality who could nick us a goal," said Paul Jewell, the latest in a long line of managers for whom Saunders has now scored important goals. "He trained with us for the first time yesterday but he was very fit and very keen".
Bradford have been away from the top division for rather longer - 77 years, to be precise - but Jewell has strengthened his squad with seasoned Premiership professionals, and it was their experience he really had to thank for City's unlikely victory.
David Wetherall and Gunnar Halle, who both made the short trip across West Yorkshire from Leeds in the closed season, bolstered the defence during a hectic first half in which the Bantams' goal came under constant pressure.
Wetherall scrambled a Brian Deane shot off the line, but it was another old top-level hand, John Dreyer, whose tackles on Boro's fleet young striker Andy Campbell prevented City being overwhelmed before they could find their Premiership feet.
"We defended well," Jewell said. "Dreyer was great and Andy O'Brien did a great job on Gazza. He stopped him playing."
Indeed Gascoigne, despite the "Gazza for England" banners that have once again sprouted around the Riverside Stadium, made little impression and was lucky to escape a booking for a tackle on Neil Redfearn.
It was left to Christian Ziege, on his debut following his pounds 4m signing from Milan, to lift Bryan Robson's spirits. "He supplied a lot for us. He was our best player by far," said Robson of the German international's creative passing surging forward runs and powerful shooting.
"In the first 45 minutes we played well in every aspect of the game," Robson said, "but in the second half we allowed Bradford too much possession and became disjointed."
He is now hoping his other new signing Paul Ince, who was left out of the squad because he is not yet fit enough to play the full 90 minutes, will be available for the midweek match against Wimbledon or next weekend's visit to Derby.
Goal: Saunders (89) 0-1.
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Festa, Vickers (Townsend, 80), Gordon; Stamp, Mustoe, Gascoigne, O'Neill, Ziege; Deane, Campbell (Ricard, 75). Substitutes not used: Roberts (gk), Maddison, Stockdale.
Bradford City (4-4-2): Walsh; Halle, Wetherall, Dreyer, Jacobs; Redfearn, Whalley, O'Brien, Beagrie; Windass (Saunders, 82), Mills. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Blake, Todd, Moore.
Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe). Bookings: Middlesbrough: Mustoe. Bradford: Beagrie, Redfearn, Halle.
Man of the match: Dreyer.