Stoke vs Reading:
I’ve been banging Stoke’s drum for about three weeks, which has yielded me a pretty poor return, most notably when they threw away a two goal lead at home to Wigan. Despite the heartbreak of that draw, I’m foolishly going in again to hopefully see them record their first Premier League win in seven. Tony Pulis feels their hardest games are behind them and I’m sure he’ll want to get the Britannia Stadium back to being the stronghold it’s proved to be over the past three seasons. Reading are on a great run of form that’s seen them pull two points clear of the drop zone, but it’s often hard to keep your intensity when you’re no longer sat in the bottom three. After Wigan I reckon Stoke will be weary of the late goals threat posed by Reading and they hold enough quality to get the better of the newly promoted side – something which used to be their bread and butter.
40 Pts – Stoke Win @ 1.83 – WON
Man City are now a huge 9 points behind Man United at the top of the Premier League table but they have a chance on Saturday afternoon to narrow that to 6 points as they visit struggling Southampton. Having had a good run of victories at the start of the year, City have drawn their last two (away at QPR and home to Liverpool) and they will be desperate to get back to winning ways this weekend. City will welcome back Yaya Toure from the AFCON and I expect him to come straight back into the side. With Aguero fit again, City are rather spoilt for choice up front and they should have sufficient talent to beat Southampton. However, I expect them to need more than one goal as Southampton will undoubtedly give it a go as they have done all season. Although they’ve conceded more than any other team in the Premier League this season, they have also not struggled for goals themselves and have managed to notch at least one against almost all of the top teams. Crucially for Southampton, their leading creative talent, Adam Lallana, is working his way back to full fitness and I can see them scoring a few of their own.
40 pts – Both teams to score @ 1.78 – WON
The Human Toothpick:
3 draws and a last gasp loss to Newcastle last time out see Rafa’s Chelsea in some pretty average form coming into this home tie vs. Wigan. Normally a home win would be an obvious result, and I suspect Chles will win- but are probably too short at 1.36. Wigan have been in decent goal scoring form of late (altho results haven’t shown it) and I can see them notching here. Chelsea’s goals might depend on whether a) Demba Ba manages to fit a face mask and b) whether Rafatation strikes to leave key player Juan Mata out. Nonetheless I’m going to back over 2.5 here.
25 points – Over 2.5 goals – 1.56 – WON
Norwich vs Fulham:
Like Stoke, Norwich are on an equally poor run of form having been dumped out of the cup by Luton, they haven’t won in eight league games, but I envisage a bit of respite this weekend. New signing Luciano Becchio adds some much needed fire power and he’ll enjoy linking up again with old teammate Robert Snodgrass. Norwich’s home form is what’s held them above the bottom three and Chris Hughton will have targeted three points here to stop them being dragged further back into the mire. Dimitar Berbatov may well return for Fulham, but they’re a side who often struggle away from home, particularly against sides in and around the bottom.
15 Pts – Norwich Win @ 2.25 – LOST
New Zealand vs England:
It’s not that long ago that England were in India and we’re straight into some T20 action in New Zealand. This is a series that promises to be a tight affair after the Kiwi’s unprecedented one-day series win over South Africa. The only game I watched was New Zealand’s 27 run win in the second match where they managed five run outs and had two near misses where they were a frame away from another couple. England’s fielding isn’t shabby either with Morgan, Bairstow and Buttler, which is why I’m backing a couple of run outs in what’s always a frantic affair. It’s a shame there’s no Ravi Bopara, but both sides have some inexperience and when players haven’t batted much together it can often lead to confusion.
20 Pts – Over 1.5 Run-outs @ 2.25 – LOST
Swansea vs QPR:
Swansea have obviously had a terrific season and are playing some great football, which has seen them reach a very winnable League Cup final at the end of February. As good as they’ve been though, it’s near impossible for a player to ignore that the biggest game of their career is only two weeks away and a stupid challenge or injury could see them watching from the stands of Wembley, clearly something nobody wants. Pit that against QPR, who’re desperate for points and want to show they’ve got some fight in them for a battle to the final day and avoid relegation and it’s two pretty contrasting outlooks on this match. I envisage a low scoring affair with QPR definitely coming out with something.
25 Pts – Double Chance QPR and Draw @ 1.91 – LOST
France vs Wales:
Sam Warburton is a massive miss for Wales in what will be a brutal midfield encounter at the Stade de France on Saturday. The selection of Mermoz and Bastareaud up against Roberts and Davies is a mouth-watering prospect, but I think the French, fresh from their disappointment in Italy, will come out on top here. They’ll be anxious for a fast start in front of their home fans and I can see early points on the board.
15 Pts – 1st Half Handicap France (-4) @ 1.91 – LOST
Man U vs Everton:
It’s unfortunate that Marouane Fellaini looks set to miss this game, he caused havoc at Old Trafford last year in a thoroughly entertaining 4-4, which I’m sure Alex Ferguson must have looked back on as a game that cost them the title. Everton always fair well against United though and I can easily see them pulling out a performance to snatch a share of the spoils.
5 Pts – Draw @ 4.0 – LOST
Ok enough is enough. This Chelsea side is full of young (and ageing) talent and should simply be too good at home for a side in the bottom three. Wigan, of course, will eventually pull themselves out of trouble and their comebacks in recent weeks suggest they may have started their end of season rally a bit earlier this season. However, if the Chelsea players can manage to block out the noise from the crowd aimed at Rafa Benitez they should dispatch Wigan with ease. With Lampard playing like a dervish for a new contract and with Mata, Oscar and the returning Hazard pulling the strings for Demba Ba, they really should have enough.
15 pts – Chelsea to win by 2 or more @ 1.91 – WON
5 pts – Chelsea to win and 3 or 4 goals @ 2.88 – LOST
Liverpool vs West Brom:
West Brom are on a bad run, without a win since Boxing Day, and I don’t expect things to get much better when they visit Anfield on Monday night. Thanks to their excellent start to the season, West Brom are safe for another year and, as they’re also comfortably above local rivals Villa, you wonder what they’ve got left to play for other than pride. Liverpool on the other hand are looking upwards as they chase a European spot for next season. Since Sturridge has joined them they look like a much better side and, while two draws against Arsenal and Man City should perhaps have been two wins, they have some real momentum behind them. In their last three home games, Liverpool have beaten Norwich, Sunderland and Fulham 5-0, 3-0 and 4-0 respectively and, with an extra couple of day’s rest following the international break, I expect them to enjoy another good home win.
15 pts – Liverpool to win by 2 or more @ 2 – LOST
10 pts – Liverpool to win to nil @ 2.3 – LOST
Scotland vs Italy:
What a result for Italy last weekend! These two teams traditionally fight it out for the wooden spoon and most were expecting this game to be the one that decides where it goes this year. However, Italy’s home win over France last weekend has made this game even more important for Scotland. The Scots showed glimpses of their potential against England and I think they will have just enough to extend their good home record against Italy.
10 pts – Scotland to win by under 13 points @ 2.48 – LOST
The Human Toothpick:
Sold for an initial £200k to Huddesfield, the exit of Jordan Rhodes is widely accepted as Roy Keane’s biggest mistake at ITFC –and something which the fans can never forgive him for. Rhodes went on to score a stupid number of goals in League One before Blackburn splashed out and paid £8m for him this summer. More goals, his senior Scotland debut and a burgeoning reputation sees him as one of the hotter properties outside of the Prem and I can see him coming back to haunt his old club this weekend.
10 points –Jordan Rhodes anytime goal scorer – 1.9 – WON
Norwich vs. Fulham
Back to Carrow Road again this weekend and I’m going against my recent trend and hoping for a low scoring affair. Given recent form/results, Norwich really need to try and get a result here and I think Hughton will keep it tight against an unpredictable Fulham team. Berba’s return should give Fulham some much needed creativity…but I’m hoping he’ll have a quiet day at the office…!
10 points – Under 2.5 goals – 1.94 – WON
Swansea vs. QPR
Neither team in particularly strong goal scoring form, and with Harry battling for every point I can see this being another tight affair.
10 points – Under 2.5 goals – 1.81 – LOST
Ireland vs. England
Home advantage, a good win away last week and probably the favourites for this year’s title – I expect this to be a close battle, but one, ultimately, that Ireland will edge. England haven’t won a Six Nations game in Ireland for 10yrs, and despite their recent good form I’m not sure that’s going to change on Sunday.
10 points – Ireland WIN – 2.12 – LOST
10 points – Man City and Liverpool to WIN – 2.15 – LOST
5 pts – England to beat NZ in T20, France to beat Wales in 6 Nations, Chelsea to beat Wigan in PL and Silviniaco Conti to win Denman Chase at Newbury @ 5.37 – LOST