FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Monday's televised FA Cup tie from The Abbey.
Cambridge v Leeds | Monday 19:45 | BT Sport
Cambridge made their worst ever start to a Football League season (W0-D3-L5) and were rooted to the bottom of the League Two table in late September when letting a 1-0 lead slip against fellow strugglers Morecambe. The U’s were three points adrift and Shaun Derry’s position was under serious threat.
But huge kudos to the Cambridge board and Derry himself – the club have dramatically transformed their season and put themselves into play-off contention thanks to a fabulous 16-game spell that’s seen the side collect 35 points from a possible 48 (W11-D2-L3).
No League Two club has been in better form than The U’s (2.19 points per-game) during that outstanding run of results with Derry reaping the rewards for being brave enough to tinker with his systems before finding the right approach.
Cambridge's winning formula
Luke Berry’s been moved into a number 10 role with the unplayable Uche Ikpeazu dominating defences as a lone striker in Cambridge’s 4-2-3-1. Derry has also reserved special praise for James Dunne’s contribution to the transformation in a defensive midfield role.
Berry has scored eight goals in his past four appearances at home and ran the show when The U’s crushed League One side Coventry 4-0 here in the 2nd Round of the competition. And the hosts have pedigree in upset material have already beaten a Championship team this season, knocking Sheffield Wednesday out of the League Cup in August.
Derry banned his troops from discussing this clash in the dressing room until the festive League Two programme was out of the way and the Cambridge boss is now keen to administer a similar result to the one the side produced when holding Manchester United to a 0-0 draw here in 2015.
Both Brad Halliday and George Maris could be fit to return and Max Clark’s extended his loan from Hull until the end of the season so the home side aren’t short of options.
But whilst League Two clubs boast a respectable recent record when welcoming Championship outfits in the FA Cup (W7-D4-L10), Cambridge haven’t tended to fare too well in their most difficult league examinations.
The hosts have W0-D1-L6 when taking on the top-eight and W0-D2-L7 when playing top-10 teams in League Two. Despite Leeds progressing past the 3rd Round in three of the past 13 seasons, it’s a record that’s rather off-putting for those looking to punt the upset at 69/20 (Marathon).
Leeds are flying
There are 50 places between the two clubs in the pyramid and although Cambridge are in rude health, Leeds are flying.
Sitting 22nd after seven games, Garry Monk was rumoured to be under pressure. But the Whites have since W12-D2-L4 – only suffering defeats against the top-two Brighton and Newcastle in their last 12 – to climb to fifth.
Promotion is obviously the priority for Monk and the Leeds boss admitted he’d be looking to freshen things up whilst trying to strike the right balance between resting/rotating and a winning formula.
Eunan O’Kane and Lewie Coyle should be expected to be involved having returned from injury but left-back Charlie Taylor remains a major doubt. Nevertheless, Leeds’ fringe players equipped themselves well en-route to the EFL Cup quarter-finals and they should be capable of justifying their 21/20 (Bet365) favourite status.
The betting angle
So what’s the best angle? I reckon goals are a solid play considering Cambridge have kept only two clean sheets as hosts this season but have found the back of the net in each of their past 12 outings when excluding the EFL Trophy.
Leeds have only been silenced in three of their past 15 fixtures in all formats with four of their past five road trips all seeing Both Teams To Score provide profit.
But with the Whites favoured to come out on top, lets take a two-pronged attack by backing the 2-1 and 3-1 correct scores at 8/1 and 16/1, both with BetVictor).