MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) is in the hot-seat for Wednesday night’s third round EFL Cup tussle between Northampton and Manchester United.
Northampton v Man Utd | Wednesday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
When Sky Sports chose to screen the third round EFL Cup tie between Northampton and Manchester United, the bosses were clearly seduced by the charm of a League One outfit welcoming England’s biggest club for a possible but unlikely cupset.
Oh yeah, and the obvious viewing figures that United bring to the table.
But having opened their 2016/17 account with four successive victories, I’m not sure any of us foresaw the Red Devils’ demise over the past eight days.
Jose Mourinho’s men now head to Sixfields on Wednesday hoping to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat and further embarrassment following their dismal 3-1 Premier League loss at Watford on Sunday.
Louis van Gaal’s worst run of results as United boss saw his side lose four games on the spin and the way in which Mourinho’s troops have crumbled has drawn comparisons with the dour Dutchman.
The Red Devils have been pushed out to 14/1 in the Premier League title betting and debates rage on about where Wayne Rooney fits into Mourinho’s masterplan. Rooney may be rested here but Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial are all likely to miss out through injury.
Nevertheless, United remain overwhelming favourites and it’s a competition Mourinho has enjoyed over the years, lifting the trophy in three of his five completed campaigns in English football.
The former Chelsea boss has won W9-D5-L0 of his 14 road ventures in this competition and W7-D1-L0 at lower-league opposition. Seeing as United have only failed to progress past the third round twice in the last 14 years, the expectation is on the visitors to bounce back to winning ways.
However, Northampton may have spotted a few chinks in the away side’s armoury and the Cobblers look well worth backing to get on the scoresheet. Town returned to League One after seven seasons away this summer having romped to the League Two title last season.
Rob Page’s team have picked up 11 points from their first eight fixtures (W2-D5-L1) with Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Chesterfield their first loss in 32 games.
Northampton also have a great reputation for upsetting the odds in the EFL Cup; over the past decade the Cobblers have knocked out higher-division opposition such as Liverpool, Ipswich, West Brom and Wolves and with only one defeat in 19 in front of their fans since last Christmas, the hosts will be confident of springing a surprise.
Town are a rather direct side with plenty of aerial threats and they’ll have been encouraged by United’s poor defending from crosses and high balls against Watford on Sunday.
A repeat of those toils could gift the Cobblers a goal here but ultimately it’s worth siding with the Red Devils.