Saints alive to Sunderland threat
Ian Brindle previews Saturday's FA Cup fifth-round ties and fancies Southampton to win at Sunderland.
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Sunderland and Southampton meet for the fourth time this season and having drawn twice in the Premier League, the neutrals will be hoping for a repeat of their Capital One Cup clash where the Black Cats prevailed 2-1 in an exciting encounter.
Southampton arguably should have had all three points in the bag by half time during their Premier League visit to the Stadium of Light, but an inspired Gus Poyet and a buoyant crowd spurred the home side to an unlikely point.
There's little doubt that Saints have a little more quality about their line-up and Mauricio Pochettino will be delighted that Rickie Lambert has rediscovered his golden touch, although he will be equally keen that his side do not maintain their current habit of surrendering leads.
Cup runs can often prove a welcome distraction though the fixture schedule has done Sunderland few favours, with a programme that sees them up against Arsenal, Liverpool and Crystal Palace while visiting Wembley for the Capital One Cup final.
Something has to give and Southampton, who have won their last two away games in the Premier League without conceding a goal, can take advantage here. At odds-against they're worth backing to reach the quarter-finals.
Manchester City await Sunderland at the aforementioned Capital One Cup final and the Blues will bid to maintain their challenge for silverware on all fronts as they welcome Chelsea for what is just about the tie of the round.
City survived a real scare when 2-0 down against Watford in the preceding round and it was the brilliance of Sergio Aguero that saw them through. Unfortunately for Manuel Pellegrini, both he and Fernandinho are set to miss this and their upcoming Champions League tie against Barcelona.
Bad weather saw City's Wednesday night match postponed and though a fixture pile-up is probably the last thing that the manager would have wanted, the postponement has given extra time for injured players to be treated and Samir Nasri, Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia could all be available.
Chelsea registered the league double over their City and they were fair value for more than their 1-0 success at the Etihad. However, John Terry missed their draw against West Brom during the week and, with Gary Cahill a doubt, Jose Mourinho could be forced into a dramatic reshuffle at the back.
On balance this is a game to watch and enjoy as the layers appear to have things about right, with City 23/20 and both Chelsea and the draw priced at 5/2.
Reigning champions Wigan find themselves in the second tier of English football but they warmed up for Saturday's trip to Cardiff with a 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsbrough.
The Latics haven't exactly set the world alight on the road, with eight losses from 15 matches and they made hard work of getting past MK Dons in the third round.
Despite the loss of some high profile names over the summer, the nucleus of the squad still remain and Uwe Rosler will be relieved that they have rediscovered the art of scoring away from the JJB having come back goalless on their three previous outings.
Cardiff worked hard to gain a point against Aston Villa on Tuesday and though Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer would be delighted to land some silverware, he's been brought in by Vincent Tan with Premier League survival very much in mind.
On the evidence of their drubbing by Swansea, he has plenty of work to do and life will be no easier with the enforced absence of Craig Bellamy. However, the Bluebirds showed plenty of grit to secure that draw with Villa and might just do enough to come through this one.
Sheffield Wednesday have proved to be something of a Jekyll and Hyde team in the Championship and they take on Charlton in the remaining match on Saturday.
The Addicks prevailed 4-2 when they met in the FA Cup back in 2006 but recent meetings have been much favourable to Wednesday. Having won both League encounters in the Championship last season, they'd have been disappointed to have come away with a 1-1 draw from the Valley in December.
The scoreline against Wigan didn't tell the full story as they enjoyed plenty of possession and were guilty of not putting away their chances. Unbeaten in their previous 11 matches, they showed serious steel in their victories over local rivals Barnsley and Leeds and look capable of bouncing back here.
Charlton boast a rich pedigree in the FA Cup but they are currently mired in a relegation battle having won just one of their last six games. Roland Duchatlet's recent takeover of the club and the baffling decision to dispense with the services of Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens appear to have made life increasingly difficult for manager Chris Powell who may be able to focus on the league from next week onwards.