There’s definitely a certain magic about the FA Cup, nowhere else could painters and carpenters from Yeading turn out in front of 20,000 at Loftus Road and play against multi-million pound stars as equals. Unfortunately that sort of unpredictability in the face of near certainty doesn’t make it an easy week for giving an accurate reflection of outcomes, but nonetheless I have tried.
West Ham vs Manchester Utd
I think both sides will make a number of changes for this one. The Hammers have been stretched with suspensions and injuries over the busy Christmas period and I think Sam Allardyce will take this opportunity to have a look at some of his lesser used players. Unfortunately etched into my memory is the last time this group of players was given an opportunity to impress, it resulted in a 4-1 home defeat to Wigan and I fear for something similar from a Utd side carrying greater quality. Alex Ferguson will undoubtedly make changes from the side that went to Wigan, but with the likes of Valencia, Scholes, Kagawa and Welbeck all looking for some game time, I expect the league leaders to have no problems in this encounter.
25 Pts – Man U Win @ 1.66 – LOST
5 Pts – Man U (-1 Handicap) @ 2.7 – LOST
Southampton vs Chelsea
Southampton had a great result against Arsenal on Tuesday and were unlucky not to come out with all three points, which was in stark contrast to Chelsea who came unstuck against bottom side QPR. It looked as though Rafa Benitez underestimated the opposition by resting Mata and Hazard and I don’t expect the same mistake here. With a 14 point gap to Utd, the title looks to be beyond them and Benitiez will want some return from his interim spell at the club, which the cup offers perfectly. I envisage a strong Chelsea outfit proving too good for Southampton, who will be wary that the real aim is Premiership survival.
15 Pts – HT/FT – Chelsea/Chelsea – 2.45 – LOST
10 Pts – Chelsea to Win (-1 Handicap) – 2.6 – WON
Crystal Palace vs Stoke
Looking at this game, it’s hard to imagine that Palace will prioritise this as a must win. They are right in the playoff mix and with Cardiff running away with top spot, they’ll want to assert themselves on the league to try and sneak second. Stoke on the other hand are coming off the back of two poor results and have leaked a combined six goals in two games, they’ll be mindful that a good result here will get them back on track. Stoke also have some quality players to call on, who’ll be eager to try and force their way into the first team. Etherington, Kightly and Crouch will be a handful for what’s expected to be a depleted Palace team and I think 2.4 offers good value.
15 Pts – Stoke Win @ 2.4 – LOST
Crawley vs Reading
It wouldn’t be FA Cup weekend without an upset and this is where I see a bit of potential. Reading are on a reasonable run but with the heavy workload of recent weeks, I’d expect a full change front to back for this one. Crawley on the other hand live for this competition and are not that far away in quality with League One football.
10 Pts – Crawley Win @ 3.0 – LOST
Villa vs Ipswich
Two sides in and out of form to say the least. Villa had an encouraging result at Swansea on Tuesday whereas Town were woeful at home. I expect Premiership quality to prevail here, especially at home and think the even money offered is pretty generous.
10 Pts – Villa Win @ 1.95 – WON
Manchester City vs Watford
I don’t think there’s too much doubt where the expectations are for this game, with Manchester City priced at 1/7, but I think the bookmakers might be underestimating Gianfranco Zola’s side here. I’m not saying they’re necessarily going to force a result or even a replay, but if there’s anyone who embodies this competition its Zola and I can see his side causing an irregular backline some problems. I expect a few goals and at least one for each side.
10 Pts – Both Teams to Score – 2.1 – LOST
The 3rd round of the FA Cup is a strange old weekend, coming as it does after the busy festive period, where most clubs have travelled the length and breadth of the country to play 3 games in 6 days. You can understand why many managers, who have bigger things to worry about like titles, promotion and relegation, must think ‘stuff it’. There are some, however, who face often unrealistic pressure from fans and owners to win some piece of silverware every season. Indeed for all but two of the Premier League clubs, the FA Cup represents their only chance. My theory, therefore, is that some of the biggest clubs will be taking this round very seriously.
Fulham vs Blackpool:
Fulham have been driving us all mad at NitR. The festive fixtures offered up two consecutive home games against Southampton and Swansea, which we all believed were great opportunities for Fulham to get back to winning ways and steer themselves clear from the relegation zone. Alas, they managed just one measly point from those two games. So, when they pulled up to West Brom on New Year’s Day, we duly switched horses to the home side only for Fulham to put in an excellent performance to take all three points. That win leaves them needing just 16 from the second half of the season to reach the magical 40 point mark, and I therefore expect Martin Jol to take the FA Cup at least moderately seriously. It is also important that they use the confidence gained from their win at West Brom to build some momentum and this home tie to mid-table Championship side, Blackpool, should provide the perfect opportunity. Blackpool have been pretty uninspiring this season with 8 wins and 10 draws from their 26 games so far. They will enjoy the opportunity to test themselves against Premier League opposition but I’m backing Fulham to rediscover their usually reliable home form.
40 pts – Fulham win @ 1.72 – LOST
Tottenham vs Coventry:
Tottenham fans have had plenty to cheer about over the hectic last few weeks, with their team winning all three of their games since Christmas. They continue to look more dangerous away from home but they eventually cruised past a spirited Reading side on New Year’s Day. They currently sit 3rd in the table and will be hoping to push on from this impressive start over the rest of the season. AVB has a pedigree in cup competitions (having won the Portuguese Cup and Europa League in his Porto days) and I think he will see the FA Cup as an excellent chance of silverware. The visitors this weekend are mid-table League One side, Coventry, who have also been more dangerous on the road than at home. They have managed 7 wins from 13 away games and just 3 wins from 13 at home. They have also scored the most away goals in League One so far this season. Coventry will turn up at White Hart Lane with nothing to lose, but AVB has some excellent attacking players waiting for their chance if he decides to rest some of his first team regulars, and I think Spurs will have more than enough to progress to the 4th round.
40 pts – Tottenham win by 2 or more goals @ 1.53 – WON
Must win acca:
As mentioned at the top, there are some clubs who need a good run in the FA Cup to keep their fans and owners happy. I propose to combine four of these who have games they should win 99 times out of 100. However, as we know, one of them is sure to succumb to the dreaded ‘cupset’ and let me down.
15 pts – Wins for Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton @ 3.25 – WON
On the flip side, there are plenty of struggling clubs facing lower league opposition who are going well in their division and will fancy their chances of getting at least a draw. Although not all of these qualify, I’ve used the double chance market to combine the following:
5 pts – Double chance Brighton, Blackburn, Bolton, Crystal Palace, Leeds and Peterborough @ 8.6 – LOST
The Human Toothpick:
FA Cup weekend. Never an easy one for the punter. Form largely seems irrelevant, and we all know they’ll be an upset somewhere – probably in the one game we all need to come in for our ‘banker’ accumulator…! There are nevertheless some interesting match ups to consider…and hopefully some decent returns to be had.
Aston Villa vs. Ipswich Town
Ex-Wolves boss (Super) Mick McCarthy can expect a warm welcome from the Villa faithful on Saturday…and I’m pretty sure they’ll be celebrating come the final whistle – despite Town fans desire to get one over ex-Cannaries boss Paul Lambert! Town are tired, and I very nearly backed Brighton at the weekend, before the spectre of the Charlton away win put me off. McCarthy has admitted that he’s going to have to freshen things up on Sat (not least having lost top (and pretty much only!) scorer DJ Cambell back to QPR, while Danny Higgingbottom and keeper Henderson are not eligible). Quite aside from the weakened Town team, this has got a Villa win written all over it; struggling in the league, zero confidence, and conceding goals like they’re going out of fashion (17 in the last 4!) – this is tailor made for a form boosting cup win!…The Villa players (potentially including ex-Blue Darren Bent) venting their frustrations of recent weeks on an obliging (and probably youthful) Town defence. My only concerns surround a) Villa’s home form (with good results against Norwich (cup), Liverpool and Swansea (league) all being away from home and b) them being slightly distracted by their Carling Cup semi-final on Tuesday. Town have also been in decent away form of late, but nevertheless I still think Villa will take this one easily.
30 points – Aston Villa WIN – 1.95 – WON
West Ham vs. Man United
Despite my recent promise to stay away from the Hammers, I’ve, like a moth to a flame, been tempted by one of the bigger (and televised) games of the weekend. United travel to Upton Park on the back of yet another extraordinary Christmas for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, but I worry that they might just take their eye off the ball a little here –with some likely rotation also potentially playing a part. They’ve kept two clean sheets on the bounce, but I think a feisty game here could see the Hammers notch, with spirits perhaps lifted by the signing of both Marouane Chamakh and prodigal son Joe Cole. United might still have enough to progress, but I’m hoping they’ll need more than 1 goal to do it.
10 points – Over 2.5 goals – 1.72 – WON
Tottenham vs. Coventry
Spurs have a decent sized squad and I can see a few fringe players being given a chance to impress here. Coventry would love a chance to remember former glories and have been ticking along ok this season (albeit in league one). Thin-ish odds but I’m backing goals here
15 points – Over 2.5 goals – 1.53 – WON
Wigan vs. Bournemouth
Bournemouth arrive at the DW in strikingly better form than their hosts, having won 4 of the last 5 – leaving them just outside the playoffs in League One. Wigan have lost the last 4 of their last 5 – albeit against some tough opponents. Roberto Martinez’s men may just take this chance (like Aston Villa) to blow away some of their recent results and put Bournemouth away comfortably. Alternatively Bournemouth could cause a few a problems in the final third themselves…either way I’d hope for there to be goals here.
15 points – Over 2.5 goals -1.77 – LOST
Peterborough vs. Norwich
A short-ish trip along the A14 for the Cannaries sees them up against a team in decent nick, who’ve dragged themselves out of the relegation zone in recent weeks. 4 wins and 14 goals in the last 5 reflects a team playing well –albeit not iron shod at the back (10 goals conceded in the period). Norwich have also been outperforming this term, despite losing the last 4 (!) – sitting in a respectable 12th place in the league. Hughton might take this chance to rest some of his stars, but Lambert built a decent squad last year and I hope they’ll have enough to force the pace here, especially as P’boro will be without Lee Tomlin, Dwight Gale and Peter Grant. It might seem odd that I’m backing goals given both sides are without their main strikers, but I’m hoping they’ll have plenty from midfield to make this a decent game.
10 points – Norwich WIN – 2.18 – WON
5 points – Over 2.5 goals – 1.64 – WON
5 points – (HOME) Man City, Notts Forest, Millwall, Leicester to WIN – 3.88 – LOST
5 points – (AWAY) Cardiff, Liverpool, Chelsea to WIN – 3.36 – LOST
Marco Baghdatis vs. Grigor Dimitrov (Brisbane Open, Semi final)
Love a tennis bet, and who better to start with than the enigmatic Marco Baghdatis. He may well get outgunned by the Bulgarian Dimitrov (who served 17 aces in his quarter final), but I’m backing the Cypriot to use his experience (he likes playing in Australia) to win through here. I suspect Murray awaits in the final, but he was too short to back.
5 points – Baghdatis WIN – 2.14 – LOST