The FA Cup third round weekend is one of the most exciting in the football calendar, with smaller English clubs getting a shot at downing a Premier League or Championship side.
There are lots of potential giant killings on the cards, with Premier League managers likely to rotate players after a hectic fixture schedule, although some top flight clubs will be eager to make progress in this competition and book a trip to Wembley.
Aston Villa v Ipswich 15.00
Some interesting match odds about the encounter at Villa Park, with the odds compilers clearly under the impression that Paul Lambert will be fielding a weakened team for the arrival of their Championship opponents.
That can be the only explanation why you can get even money (Ladbrokes) about a win for the Villans against an Ipswich side who play their football a division lower and were near the bottom of the league until Mick McCarthy arrived to turn things around.
There are clearly problems with Aston Villa at the moment, with the team being played off the park at Swansea on Tuesday only to nearly win the match after three previous straight defeats. The fact that the Midlands outfit are also in the League Cup semi-finals means that the FA could be low on the pecking order, with survival fast becoming the key aim.
As for Ipswich, they are 19th in the Championship although some of their best performances have come on the road where Town have won five away games and McCarthy has ensured they sit five points above the drop zone.
Recent wins at Charlton and Wolves suggest the Suffolk team can cause an upset in this match although they were exposed to Brighton on New Year’s Day when losing 3-0. Even so, an away win is perfectly feasible and odds of 3/1 (Paddy Power) look ripe for the taking.
Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland 15.00
Martin O’Neill doesn’t disguise his love of the cup competitions and the Black Cats ruined a potential chance to reach Wembley in the League Cup when losing at home to Middlesbrough.
Last season, they earned a draw in the quarter finals of the FA Cup at Everton before losing to the Toffees at home and Sunderland will be hoping to get things right at the Reebok Stadium against a Wanderers side that have experienced a real fall from grace.
Stan James offer 8/5 that the Black Cats win the game and book their place in the fourth round of the competition, although the Wearside team haven’t been too convincing on the road this term and were easily beaten at Anfield on Wednesday.
Bolton were the pre-season favourites to win the Championship although it appears as though a top six position is slipping from their grasp after losing three of their last four matches including a 1-0 reverse at Elland Road on New Year’s Day.
This result leaves them 16th in the table and Dougie Freedman will be ready to forsake this competition and instead focus on making the play-offs, although wins breed confidence and odds of 9/5 (Coral) might be too big about a Bolton side that have won six times at the Reebok this season.
When you look at the Wanderers team, you do think they could be higher up the Championship table and that man Kevin Davies is still going strong and an 8/1 chance to break the deadlock in this game, although perhaps Marvin Sordell will get a chance to shine in attack.
Crawley v Reading 15.00
This match has upset written all over it, with League One side Crawley Town ready to inflict more pain on a Reading team who are bottom of the Premier League and showing few signs of being able to get out of trouble.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Red Devils were a non-league outfit although the Sussex outfit are now among the better sides in League One and sit eighth in the table, with every chance that they could be playing the Royals in the Championship next season.
That explains why there isn’t much difference in the odds for the teams to win the match, so those looking to back Crawley at fancy prices might be disappointed that 15/8 (bet365) is the most that the bookmakers are looking to offer about Richie Barker’s team.
A 3-0 win against Colchester will have the home supporters believing that an upset is possible and it was only two seasons ago that saw Town embark on a winning cup run that saw them beat Derby County before narrowly losing at Old Trafford.
Nicky Adams has been among the goals recently and the attacking midfielder will be looking forward to facing a team that might well include several fringe players considering the absolute priority for Reading is to remain in the top flight.
Brian McDermott will be looking to rotate his squad and hoping that the second string are strong enough to reach the next round, with 6/4 (Betfred bookmaker) that the visitors book themselves in the hat with a victory in this game.
Adam Le Fondre and Noel Hunt will be among those players back in the team and this is a strikeforce which could ultimately prove the difference between the two sides, although it should be a close encounter.
Crystal Palace v Stoke City 15.00
A couple of seasons ago, Stoke City reached the final of the FA Cup and their relatively lofty Premier League position means that the Potters might fancy another crack at this competition, although they have been handed a third round banana skin.
Everyone knows that Tony Pulis’ team aren’t the best travellers in the world and boast just the one away win all season and they always manage to secure three points at The Hawthorns. However, Tuesday’s 3-0 reverse at Manchester City was particularly insipid and the manager won’t be looking to play his strongest team at Selhurst Park.
Even so, City are a best price 7/5 (William Hill) to beat their Championship opponents, having avoided defeat in 7 of their 11 matches this term, with Peter Crouch, Michael Kightly, Dean Whitehead and Matthew Etherington among those who will be in the side for this contest.
Ian Holloway can’t afford to rotate his players so sparingly although the Eagles starting XI will pack something of a punch at home where they have dished out a few tonkings to the opposition and stand every chance of reaching the play-offs this term.
Keeping Wilfried Zaha might be beyond Palace with the top Premier League clubs circling like vultures to sign the talented forward, although the south London side don’t look a bad bet at 21/10 (BetVictor) to march into the fourth round of the competition whether their star man plays or not.
Palace were easy 3-1 winners against Wolves on New Year’s Day which ended a run of five games without a win although they have managed to score at least twice in five of their last seven matches and that is enough to suggest they could have the edge over a Potters team who aren’t anywhere near as prolific on the road.
Fulham v Blackpool 15.00
Martin Jol would probably prefer a few more Premier League points on the board at this stage of the season although a New Year’s Day win at The Hawthorns means that he can breathe a little easier as the Dutchman prepares his team for the arrival of a Blackpool team who have recently changed managers.
Michael Appleton was fighting a losing battle at Portsmouth although he’s now been given a sporting chance of success at Bloomfield Road and his side will arrive at Craven Cottage holding no fear and looking to upset a team who have been decidedly flaky at home in recent weeks.
The bookies might have gone 1/2 about Fulham winning this match near the start of the season although 4/6 (Betfred) is available based on their recent slip-ups at home, with Swansea becoming the latest team to win at the Cottage and they did this without Michu.
Jol will be all too aware that there are lots of league games coming up and there will be a chance for Hugo Rodallega, Kerim Frei and Kieran Richardson to make their mark against the Tangerines, with the former on offer at 6/1 to score the first goal.
As for Blackpool, they are now four games without a win although Appleton seems to have stopped the defence leaking after a New Year’s Day goalless draw against high-flying Hull City. Another draw would do his team nicely and 3/1 is on offer that this one ends all square.
It is unclear as to whether Thomas Ince has played his final game for the Championship side with the son of Paul earning rave reviews and he can put himself in the shop window during this match, with Ladbrokes offering 9/1 that he scores first.
Manchester City v Watford 15.00
Gianfranco Zola can reminisce about his brief time as a Premier League manager when he sits in the visitors’ dug-out for this encounter, while the post-match chat with Roberto Mancini is sure to have the two Italians waxing lyrical about their time at Sampdoria.
They are likely to have witnessed their teams serving up a goalfest at the Etihad Stadium, with Watford not shy of the goal this season and proving to be one of the more entertaining sides in the Championship, with the Hornets having an outside chance of promotion this term.
They have scored 47 goals in 25 games which has helped them to sixth place and they have been more dangerous on the road so far. Zola’s team won 3-1 at Brighton and took the lead twice against Charlton before losing 4-3 but can they spring a surprise at the Etihad?
BetVictor offer a massive 18/1 that the visiting supporters are celebrating a famous Cup win, although this is a competition that Manchester City will be treating with added significance after bombing out of the Champions League to the extent that the Europa League isn’t even an option for them.
With seven points separating them from Manchester United in the top flight, it’s likely that this competition represents the best chance of claiming silverware, just as they did when beating Stoke City in the 2011 FA Cup final.
Paddy Power offer a best price 1/6 that the Citizens claim victory and it could be worth backing a crazy scoreline in this game, with 4-2 and 5-1 standing out at fancy prices.
Peterborough v Norwich City 15.00
Something of a derby contest taking place between these two teams on Saturday, with an improving Peterborough team looking to cause an upset when they entertain a Canaries side that have stopped chirruping after a brave unbeaten run.
Norwich were one of the form horses in the Premier League leading up to Christmas, although Chris Hughton’s side are now enduring a four-match losing run and will be looking to use the game at London Road to stop the rot.
You can get 23/20 that City are victorious against a team that are nearly 30 places lower than them on the English football ladder and it’s possible that their class will tell come the final whistle, especially if the manager sticks with a strong team.
However, Posh are enjoying their best run of the season and Darren Ferguson’s team have given themselves a fighting chance of staying in the Championship after winning four of their last five matches which includes a 2-1 win at Cardiff and a zany 5-4 scoreline against Bolton Wanderers.
Indeed, United have now scored sixteen goals in their last six matches and will be serving up the game to their Premier League opponents in this encounter after a New Year’s Day win over Barnsley by a more modest scoreline of 2-1.
Peterborough are 13/5 (Paddy Power) to claim Norwich’s scalp and the main problem is that they will be without the in-form Dwight Gayle who is cup-tied after playing for parent club Dagenham.
Over 2.5 Goals seems like a no-brainer in this contest at odds of 3/5 (bet365) and it might even be worth backing Posh to be leading at half-time before Norwich come back to win the game. That is available at 28/1 and it’s perfectly possible that City might need some time to settle matters here.
QPR v West Brom 15.00
Harry Redknapp has previously enjoyed the delights of the FA Cup as a Bournemouth, West Ham, Tottenham and Portsmouth manager. However, he will regard the 17 remaining Premier League matches as cup finals rather than Saturday’s contest against a West Brom side that recently won 2-1 at Loftus Road and might fancy another victory this weekend.
The Baggies got off to a flyer this season and those early results mean they sit seventh in the table with a handsome return of 33 points from 21 games. While Steve Clarke will insist that the focus is on survival, the Scot will also be looking to make progress in a competition which hasn’t seen Albion get too far in recent seasons.
BetVictor offer 7/4 about an away win at Loftus Road and those odds look reasonably attractive considering QPR defended for long periods of the match at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, with their stubborn rearguard action finally being rewarded when Shaun Wright-Phillips struck a sweet winner towards the end of the game.
Will this be a result that helps Rangers turn the corner? Perhaps, although we should be reluctant to back the Hoops at 8/5 until we have at least seen the team-sheet and Redknapp is currently doing some wheeling and dealing to move players out and draft players in. He could end up with a squad that is cup-tied!
Neither team will want the match to finish all square but that is often the scenario that happens and 5/2 probably represents value considering that key players from both teams will be rested.
Djibril Cisse should be nice and fresh after being rested for the midweek encounter and the striker scored recently against West Brom, with the Frenchman a 7/1 chance to break the deadlock, with Ji-Sung Park another one who can provide some fresh legs for Rangers.
Southampton v Chelsea 15.00
Rafael Benitez defended his team selection on Wednesday night after a weakened Chelsea team were unable to break down QPR and ultimately paid the prize by losing the game 1-0.
The Spaniard claimed that Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are unable to play in every match although supporters will point to the fact that the weekend trip to St Mary’s might have been a more ideal occasion to allow the squad’s star players to warm the bench.
Perhaps it suggests that Chelsea are desperate to win the FA Cup this season and the fact that they’re practically out of the running for the Premier League title and also dumped out of the Champions League means that Benitez has been instructed to steer a path to Wembley.
The bookies certainly aren’t expecting the Blues reserves to play on Saturday and a best price 4/6 (bet365) is on offer that the visitors claim victory against a team that held Arsenal on New Year’s Day and are starting to look the part in the Premier League after a dodgy start.
Nigel Adkins will think long and hard about team selection for this game and the League Cup team that lost 3-0 at Elland Road suggests that there isn’t a great deal of strength in depth, even if exciting forward Jay Rodriguez will get a chance to pit himself against the Chelsea defence.
New Blues signing Demba Ba isn’t cup-tied and could make an instant debut for his new club providing that the paperwork goes through in time, with the striker looking to make a fast start. It also gives Benitez the chance to allow Fernando Torres a night off after playing the Spaniard a lot over Christmas.
Tottenham Hotspur v Coventry City 15.00
For the older football supporters, you can’t see this fixture without thinking of the 1987 FA Cup final where Coventry famously won 3-2 thanks to a diving header from Keith Houchen.
A lot has changed since that occasion and the Sky Blues have been recently plagued by financial problems which has seen the Midlands side drop down to League One although there are green shoots of recovery emerging this season and the recent appointment of Mark Robins suggests brighter times are ahead.
Even so, Coventry have already played the other north London side in the League Cup this season and lost by a 6-1 scoreline, so perhaps it will be men against boys on Saturday, especially if Andre Villas-Boas names his strongest possible team.
AVB clearly loves the cup competitions and the fact that his Spurs team don’t play for nine days after this game means we could see a full-strength team including the return of Gareth Bale who is enjoying another mesmeric season.
Tottenham have enjoyed four wins from five games and a best price 1/5 (BetVictor) is available that they claim a place in the fourth round with a win here, while the same firm offer 3/5 that the home side lead at half-time and full-time.
Even so, City are much improved from that early part of the season where they were struggling to make an impact in League One and the main downside for them is that top scorer David McGoldrick has returned to parent club Nottingham Forest after a purple patch for the Sky Blues. A 4-1 win for Tottenham could be the right call at 14/1.
Wigan Athletic v Bournemouth 15.00
An early start required for the Bournemouth fans travelling north to support their team at the DW Stadium, although this could be another giant-killing on the cards considering the respective form of the two teams.
Wigan have already suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of Bradford City this season after the League Two team held them to a goalless draw at the DW Stadium and they will be facing a much better team on Saturday who aren’t used to losing since Eddie Howe returned as manager.
The Cherries had a woeful start to the campaign although now sit 7th in the League One table and it is now sixteen games without defeat for the south coast team who could end up playing the Latics in the Championship next term.
The visitors are attractively priced at 15/4 (Boylesports) to win this FA Cup third round match and they have won five of their last six matches, with the latest game being a hard-fought goalless draw away to in-form Brentford.
Howe has done brilliantly since leaving Burnley for a second stint at Dean Court, with Lewis Grabban getting among the goals in recent weeks and he’s an 8/1 poke to score first in this match, while Brett Pitman is a similar price and should cause problems for the Wigan defence.
As for Roberto Martinez’s team, perhaps they will prove too strong but can you really trust the Premier League side at odds of 17/20 (William Hill)? A 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United is hardly ideal preparation, although they do have classy players like Arouna Kone who could be too hot to handle for Bournemouth.