IT’S FA Cup Fourth Round weekend and we got Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) to pick out his three best bets.
Crystal Palace v Manchester City | Saturday 15:00
On Tuesday night Crystal Palace are at Bournemouth in a vital Premier League clash. Having slipped into the bottom three last weekend, it’s not a game to be taken lightly. With that in mind, one must imagine Sam Allardyce will sacrifice this game on Saturday.
I took on Crystal Palace in the Third Round when they travelled to Bolton and the Lancashire club just couldn’t get over the line in the first match. I doubt Palace will be as fortunate this time round.
Sam Allardyce’s interest in the FA Cup is minimal and he’ll surely see this game as a massive distraction with Bournemouth on the horizon. Elimination could also free up the calendar for Palace and give them rest time during the crucial period of mid-February. There are positives aplenty for his side to do the minimum here.
After such a fraught five months in the league so far Pep Guardiola can’t really afford to down tools here. An FA Cup title would add some gloss to the season if they finish in an unimpressive league position.
He showed his intent in the Third Round when his City side blitzed past a poor West Ham team and a similar approach and selection here would surely put Palace in all sorts of trouble. You can’t really say City offer much value at 1/2 but this should be a comfortable win.
Last Saturday’s draw with Spurs was encouraging and I’ll back them to win in a match with three or more goals at 13/10. As we know, they’re not adept in keeping clean sheets (just four in 22 league games this season) and Palace may be able to nick one to fatten up the goals tally.
Middlesbrough v Accrington | Saturday 15:00
Aitor Karanka played a fairly strong side in the Third Round when they hosted Sheffield Wednesday, and if he plays those cards again then I can’t fathom them having any issues on Saturday against Accrington.
There’s no getting away from the fact it’s been a turbulent week for the Spaniard. Last Saturday his side lost 2-1 at home to West Ham to deepen their relegation concerns and his subsequent criticism of the fans was a PR disaster.
His remarks immediately saw him go favourite in the Sack Race betting and there were genuine concerns about his future. Things seem to have settled down since though as they approach this Fourth Round tie.
Opponents Accrington lie 20th in League Two. That means only four sides sit beneath them in the Football League. It’s a long look up the pyramid until you see Middlesbrough. 74 places actually. Ooft.
Stanley beat fellow League Two side Luton Town to get into the Fourth Round but their league form has been poor with just one win in 13. Manger John Coleman also has suspensions to Matty Pearson and Scott Brown to contend with.
There’s no doubt Middlesbrough will be battling the threat of relegation till deep into the season but it would be harsh to say they’ve been poor in 2016/17. They’re a tidy outfit who are blunt in front of goal but should be significantly stronger than the League Two side on Saturday.
Bookmakers have Boro at 1/3 to win this home tie which means I can back them to win by two or more at Evens with Marathon Bet. Considering the gap and the fact they beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in the previous round it’s not a price I’ll pass up on.
Southampton v Arsenal | Saturday 17:30 | BT Sport 2
I’m sure most reasonable, objective football fans were heartened this week to see Southampton reach their first Cup Final in 14 years. The Saints have brought a lot to the English game and have been one of the best sides promoted to the Premier League this decade.
If us observers were heartened, then what about the fans and staff? Do you reckon they’ve come down from Cloud 9 yet? I’m not so sure and because of that I’m keen to oppose them on Saturday.
This match must feel like a free pass for Claude Puel and his players. They’ve got their big day at Wembley booked and now have to face one of the best sides in the country at a fairly early stage of another competition. What a ball ache!
On top of this, they’ve got Swansea in the league on Tuesday night which means three games in six days. This match is undoubtedly the least important of the trio.
Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, have always had this knack of going deep in FA Cup’s despite playing a mix of established and fringe players and it’s seven years since they’ve gone out in January.
It’s not been a vintage spell of form post-Christmas but they’ve won five of their last six games and sit second in the Premier League table. They’ll be fine-tuned for this.
It’s fair to say Arsenal have struggled against Southampton in recent years (P11 W4 D3 L4 since they got promoted in 2012) but this match looks framed in unique circumstances that I expect Arsenal to take advantage of.
Crystal Palace v Manchester City – Manchester City to win and Over 2.5 Goals (13/10 Marathon Bet)
Middlesbrough v Accrington – Middlesbrough -1.5 (Evens Marathon Bet)
Southampton v Arsenal – Arsenal to win (23/20 Marathon Bet)