Clarke to sparkle against Royals
We have previewed Saturday's FA Cup matches A-L on what is one of the most popular punting weekends of the year.
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Toon continue to stumble with Alan Pardew and his beleaguered side suffering another defeat in midweek after Everton came from behind to take all three points on Tyneside. That followed a complete collapse in the last 20 minutes at Arsenal and punters who like predicting an upset will be circling over one of the fixtures of the weekend. The hosts knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup last season and are 15/8 to repeat the dose after Gus Poyet saw his side end a five-game sequence without a success in a clinical display at Ipswich on New Year's Day. He will have no Demba Ba to worry about either as he looks on his way to Chelsea but does have a couple of injury issues to solve with Bruno and Will Buckley unlikely to be available. Poyet has said he will pick the strongest line-up he has at his disposal and they look highly likely to give a good account once again. They have not lost to this rival in their five most recent meetings and that trend could well go on.
Verdict: Brighton 1 Newcastle 1 (DJ)
It's fair to say both these teams will have been left underwhelmed by this draw in the third round but at least they both have a great chance of landing one of the big-boys in round four. The Millers haven't been as dominant as I thought they might be in League Two this term but on the back of two wins on the trot they are an attractive 13/10 to add a third. Boss Steve Evans loves a good cup run, he took then non-league Crawley to Old Trafford two years ago, and they will be desperate for a plum home tie in round four to pack out their New York Stadium.
Verdict: Aldershot 0 Rotherham 2 (CC)
The only conclusion that can be drawn between these two with any certainty is their incredible inconsistency. Villa endured a torrid Christmas period but showed much more like it by nearly pinching three points at Swansea on New Year's Day. The pressure should be off a little now for Paul Lambert's young side and a win would certainly boost their own belief that survival in the top flight is attainable. Mick McCarthy has had a mixed bag of results since taking over at Portman Road and although the general feeling is fairly positive, they are still capable of being outplayed comprehensively with the recent 3-0 home defeat to Brighton a case in point. On-loan striker DJ Campbell has gone back to QPR for the time being so the onus now falls on Daryl Murphy and Michael Chopra to fill the void in the immediate future and they have just eight goals between them this season - Campbell netted 10. Both sides have issues to resolve in their respective leagues in terms of survival so you wonder how keen either are on a Cup run. This is a no-bet fixture and the hosts may just edge it - Hills have dangled even money but it is still not a price to be tempted by even with them generally odds-on across the board.
Verdict: Aston Villa 2 Ipswich 1 (DJ)
Burnley make their second trip across the Pennines of the week and after a win at Sheffield Wednesday they will be buoyant heading to Barnsley. Their 2-0 win at Hillsborough ruined my tip of a fourth Wednesday win in five but I fancy the managerless Tykes to battle for a draw.They will surely welcome a break from Championship action and without the pressure of their perilous position this should be a rip-roaring cup tie. I believe a draw is on the cards and they will have to do it all again in a Turf Moor replay.
Verdict: Barnsley 2 Burnley 2 (CC)
Martin O'Neill will be desperate to do some January transfer business as he feels his side are running on fumes after a busy spell. The energy they showed to beat Manchester City 1-0 on Boxing Day seems to have fizzled out and they were a clear second best at Liverpool in midweek. O'Neill has key players like John O'Shea, Lee Cattermole and Wes Brown all out for the trip to the Reebok and really is struggling to fill in the subsequent gaps. Perhaps he will be boosted by the fact that their last four visits to this part of Lancashire have seen them win three and draw one so there could be some optimism in terms of reaching the next round at the first attempt at 7/4. Bolton played well for long spells at Leeds but still came away on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline and boss Dougie Freedman is keen to give some of his younger players a go on this stage. They have struggled to string any results together and, depending on how much tinkering Freedman does, may just fancy their chances. They are no bigger then 9/5 to claim victory though and that is not tempting enough all things considered so perhaps these two will need another try.
Verdict: Bolton 1 Sunderland 1 (DJ)
Charlton ruined my coupon before New Year's Day had got into full swing with their early win at Watford so they owe me some favour this weekend. Chris Powell's men ripped up the formbook at Vicarage Road with a thrilling 4-3 win over the Hornets and that should give them a huge shot in the arm. With the Terriers arriving with no win in 10 and on the back of a 6-1 thumping at Leicester the Addicks will fancy their chances of making it to round four. At 11/10 that's a price that should be jumped on.
Verdict: Charlton 3 Huddersfield 1 (CC)
Crawley face Premier League opposition for the third successive year and genuinely scent the possibility of an upset. They already have taken the scalp of higher-league opposition this season in the Capital One Cup (Bolton and Millwall) and head into this one on the back of a 3-0 victory in League One against Colchester. They rightly have a laid-back, relaxed approach to the game with all the pressure on Brian McDermott's struggling outfit. The latter continue to ship more than their fair share of goals and this could be a good chances for lively striker Billy Clarke to add to his tally. He believes he can get to 20 this season as he continues to thrive under manager Richie Barker. It has led the 25-year-old to admit he is in the best form of his career and 5/2 for him to find the net anytime against the ropey visitors is not the worst bit of business this weekend.
Verdict: Crawley 2 Reading 2 (DJ)
Stoke's 10-game unbeaten run came to an end on New Year's Day but we'll read little into that visit to the Etihad Stadium. Although a better side at the Britannia, they're no mugs away from home and Crystal Palace have their hands full here. The future of Wilfried Zaha looks to lie away from Selhurst Park but Ian Holloway does have plenty of talent at his disposal, it's just questionable how much of it he'll want to use in the FA Cup. If he takes it seriously, Palace have enough to take this to a replay having drawn five of their last eight games, and that's arguably pick of the match prices at 5/2. However, the best bet on offer here is surely Stoke to qualify at 4/6. They're just 2/5 to avoid defeat and if they do draw we'd be more than happy with 4/6 that they qualify after the home replay. Chances are they can pinch this by the odd goal - they won three away ties before losing to Liverpool in the quarter-finals last year - and this rates a confident selection either way. Unfashionable Stoke often offer cracking value and that certainly appears to be the case here.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 1 Stoke 2 (BC)
There's always one team from the Championship that has a good FA Cup run and I've got a feeling that could well be Derby this season. Nigel Clough's young side are going well in the Championship and showed just what they are capable of with a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on New Year's Day. The arrival of Conor Sammon earlier this season has given them a focal point in attack and although he's hardly prolific he's given them a presence for the likes of Jamie Ward, Theo Robinson and Will Hughes to flourish. Surprise League One leaders Tranmere arrive at Pride Park this weekend but I can't see an upset and believe Sammon will set the Rams on their way to a routine win.
Verdict: Derby 4 Tranmere 0 (CC)
Things were looking bleak for Fulham prior to Saturday's trip to West Brom, but having survived a fightback from the hosts they ran out worthy winners. That confidence-booster should see them edge back towards mid-table because with Brede Hangeland and Dimitar Berbatov among their ranks, Fulham are surely far too good to go down. In terms of this competition, they meet a Blackpool side who've been struggling to convert reasonable performances into wins of late with seven draws in 11 games. The future of Tom Ince continues to dominate the headlines and if he does go, Blackpool will be looking over their shoulders rather than upwards in the league. They found a trip to Everton too much in the FA Cup last season and to be perfectly honest Fulham will look a good bet at 8/11 if team news confirms that Martin Jol - as we expect him to - is taking this very seriously.
Verdict: Fulham 2 Blackpool 0 (BC)
Championship high-flyers Hull would do well to remember Leyton Orient have a fine pedigree in recent years in the FA Cup and this tie won't be one-way traffic. Two years ago Orient marched into round five with wins over then Championship clubs Swansea and Norwich before holding Arsenal to a draw. With the likes of Lee Cook, Martin Rowlands and Kevin Lisbie in their squad they have no shortage of quality and will give the Tigers a real test at the KC Stadium. They've always got a goal in them and the both teams to score market could be the place to go here.
Verdict: Hull 2 Leyton Orient 1 (CC)
Leeds boss Neil Warnock is likely to ring the changes for this clash, as he did in their Capital One Cup run, but I'd still get on the home win. I fear for Birmingham on and off the pitch at the moment with injuries and defeats mounting and reports of money problems on the horizon. Prize asset Jack Butland may well not be risked with potential suitors unlikely to want him cup tied as acting chairman Peter Pannu recently confirmed he's set to leave St Andrew's in the coming weeks. Leeds have won their last five at home and the 11/10 on offer for another looks generous.
Verdict: Leeds 2 Birmingham 0 (CC)
Burton have already caused one cup shock at the King Power Stadium this season and that will give them plenty of hope as they head back to Leicester again. The Brewers, with former Leicester favourite Gary Rowett doing a fine job in his first management role, won 4-2 in the Capital One Cup back in August. The Foxes have improved significantly since but I don't think Nigel Pearson's men will have it all their own way. The 7/2 on it being even at the break and Leicester winning overall is worth considering.
Verdict: Leicester 3 Burton 1 (CC)
A trip to Kenilworth Road is probably the last thing beleaguered Wolves boss Stale Solbakken needs right now and this could be the headline upset of the weekend. The pressure is mounting on the former Norway international and four defeats in five has seen them slump to 18th in the Championship in the table. They've already lost eight on the road and with a passionate Hatters crowd to contend with they won't relish this game. Paul Buckle's men have plenty of quality in their squad, particularly in attack with Andre Gray, Scott Rendell and Stuart Fleetwood and they could well add to Solbakken's woes.
Verdict: Luton 2 Wolves 1