DONCASTER welcome Crystal Palace to South Yorkshire this weekend and FA Cup lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) believes the hosts are underrated
Doncaster v Crystal Palace | Sunday 17th February 2019, 16:00 | BT Sport
When Grant McCann was born in 1980, Roy Hodgson was finishing his first managerial stint of four years at Halmstad, where he had inspired one of the biggest shock title wins ever in Swedish football.
Thirty-nine years on, McCann and Hodgson are at opposing ends of their respective coaching careers, but both considering a real possibility of their clubs being in the Championship next season.
McCann was dismissed as Peterborough boss last season but has perhaps proved a point to his former employers since moving to Doncaster Rovers, who sit four points above them in the race for the final League One play-off spot.
Palace, meanwhile, are 13th in the Premier League but linger a mere three points above the relegation zone – so who will come out on top in this cup clash at the Keepmoat?
Much of Doncaster Rovers’ play last season was rather stale and predictable, which is perhaps why they finished 15th under Darren Ferguson’s tutelage.
For 15-minute flashes within their games, however, they upped the tempo and intensity to play some slick, one-touch stuff, which sparked top scorer John Marquis into life.
What manager Grant McCann has done since taking charge in the summer is turn those 15-minute flashes into more prolonged spells of pressure, helped by them having technician Benjamin Whiteman at the base of the midfield rather than a standard ball-winner.
He has recruited well in January, too.
Right-back Aaron Lewis and centre-back Paul Downing have excelled since joining on loan from Swansea and Blackburn respectively, while versatile forward Kieran Sadlier scored a wonderful, tight-angled strike in the 3-1 triumph over Peterborough shortly after joining on a free from Cork.
John Marquis is the obvious threat.
The industrious front-man is on course to be Doncaster’s top scorer for a third season running, with 21 goals for the campaign in all competitions after his opener in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Southend.
However, it would be foolish to disregard Mallik Wilks, who has been equally influential since joining on loan from Leeds, scoring 11 goals over the course of the campaign, averaging one every 225 minutes of action.
Against top-flight opposition, McCann may need to embrace more of a counter-attacking style of play and Wilks is more than capable of doing damage.
The loanee is still contracted to Leeds and, on live TV, he will want to prove to his parent club that he can produce against a team in the top division and is an attractive anytime option at 31/10 with Unibet.
Will Wilf play?
A massive factor behind the Eagles’ level of performance tends to be the availability of Wilfred Zaha.
Since the start of the 2017-/18 season, Crystal Palace have won approximately 33% of their games with Zaha in the starting eleven and only 8% of them without him.
The wide forward was charged with improper conduct by the FA last week, following sarcastic applauding of the referee which gave him a second yellow card during the 1-1 draw at Southampton; he was, perhaps harshly, given a £10,000 fine and a one-game ban.
Crystal Palace initially appealed that suspension, enabling him to play in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with West Ham, starring in the second half.
It is at the time of writing yet to be decided whether the appeal will be successful, or whether the ban will remain in place.
Rotation for Roy?
If Zaha is absent, Hodgson will be expected to make approximately five changes from the West Ham game.
Scott Dann has started both cup matches thus far and is tipped to come in for Mamadou Sakho at centre-back, with the disciplined Joel Ward potentially replacing the athletic Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back.
Max Meyer, although a highly-creative midfielder, has struggled for starting opportunities due to not quite fitting into the rigid 4-4-2 system Hodgson favours; this game could be an opportunity for him to prove his credentials.
Up top, meanwhile, we could see an exciting Belgian strike-pairing of Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi which has potential to trouble a third-tier rear-guard.
However, it remains to be seen whether Palace can replicate the intensity of their performance we saw in their 2-0 Fourth Round victory over Tottenham, rather than a display more akin to the underwhelming 1-0 Third Round win over Grimsby.
On that occasion, the League Two visitors had a man sent off after three minutes and it took them another 83 minutes of action to get the solitary goal they needed to progress.
If this contest is 11 against 11 throughout, Palace will need to play better than they did against the Mariners.
The Betting Angle
In the last 14 FA Cup games in which a League One side has hosted Premier League opposition, the third-tier outfit has won eight times.
A further five games have been drawn inside 90 minutes, with the top flight side winning on just one occasion.
Throw in the relative positions of the two teams and it is surprising to see Doncaster priced as such big outsiders.
Our best bet, therefore, is Marathon’s 29/20 on the hosts to avoid defeat on the day.
Doncaster v Crystal Palace – Doncaster double chance (29/20 Marathon)