Blackburn vs Doncaster | Saturday 9th January 2021, 15:00 | The FA Player
It’s that time of the year – FA Cup 3rd Round day – but with the added complexity of a pandemic wreaking havoc with several squads across the leagues.
One of the teams to have had Covid issues are Doncaster and that means Darren Moore is unlikely to be able to name a full 20-man squad for this trip to Ewood Park.
The League One side are in the hunt for promotion. They sit in fourth place and are well poised for a promotion push, but they’ll need to fend off interest for influential midfielder Ben Whiteman.
Despite being from different leagues, just 17 places separate them in the tables and Doncaster could prove a tough nut to crack, although Moore has issued a couple of warning regarding his side.
The League 1 club haven’t played since their 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Shrewsbury on the 22nd December following positive Covid tests. Moore has admitted that not everyone is available and they are continually assessing players. They only returned to training fully on Tuesday with some players returning throughout the week, so preparation has been hampered by the current situation. Whether that’ll affect them we’ll see.
Blackburn have had a full schedule, which saw a Boxing Day draw with Sheffield Wednesday, defeat at Huddersfield then an important three points at Birmingham. Last weekend’s win at St Andrew’s saw a major boost with the return of Bradley Dack, who managed to score in a 25-minute cameo from off the bench. As he returns to full fitness, he could be given some game time here with the likes of Stewart Downing and Tom Trybull.
The Lancashire outfit have been dumped out of the FA Cup at this stage in the last couple of seasons. Last year it was Birmingham with Newcastle the campaign before. But despite that, Tony Mowbray’s press conference made for interesting reading. He offered up that this would be a nice distraction from the league and more importantly: “We’re not going to jeopardise our opportunity to progress in the cup.”
On that basis, it could well be a strong Blackburn side named by Mowbray, and they do know the dangers Doncaster possess after these sides met in the League Cup back in August. That was here at Ewood Park and Blackburn won 3-2. Goals from Joe Rankin-Costello and an Adam Armstrong penalty in the last 20 minutes turned the game back in the Championship clubs favour.
So, they were given a warning against a fully-fit Doncaster side, but with the impact of the pandemic hitting the League One side, then that has to be factored into the outcome of this fixture.
The visitors do carry a threat, scoring in seven of their eight away league games, and with the likes of Whiteman likely to feature and Fejiri Okenabirhie then they could well pose a threat. They’ve scored seven times reaching this stage, but this will be more of a test.
In the league, Blackburn have won four of their last six at Ewood Park, losing to leaders Norwich and they were held to a 1-1 draw by Sheffield Wednesday, where they shaded the expected goals tally. In fact, no side in the Championship has a better expected goals for (xGF) than Blackburn, although this side is likely to see a few changes.
The hosts are probably the right price to get the job done, but to boost it slightly, add over 1.5 match goals into the mix for a more tempting 21/20 play. Of the four Blackburn home wins mentioned above, it’s landed in all of them with three 2-1 wins and a 3-1 triumph over QPR.
Given Doncaster posed a threat in their League Cup tie here, they shouldn’t hold any fear, especially as they return from dealing with the effects of Covid. This angle gives us scope even if Moore’s side find the net, while the 5/2 on Blackburn and BTTS was nearly the way I went.
Burnley vs MK Dons | Saturday 9th January 2021, 15:00 | The FA Player
December was an excellent month for Burnley, and it has seen both Sean Dyche and Ben Mee nominated for the monthly awards. The Clarets played six times – W3, D2, L1 and that defeat was the controversial 1-0 lose at Elland Road where referee Rob Jones enraged Dyche.
Reading through Burnley’s pre-match preview mentions Jack Cork returning from injury, while Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Matej Vydra are also available. That’s some welcome news, but there is some bad. They’ll be without a few due to Covid and those unnamed players/staff could impact on what Dyche has to choose from here. And, Dyche did talk about being re-tested again on Friday, which is when I’m writing this.
MK Dons travel north having not played since beating Swindon 4-1 on 29th December, so they will be fresh, especially with having up to 10 players fit and available after missing that league win through a mix of illness and injury.
Russell Martin is earned some plaudits for the way he’s got this Dons side playing and this one could be a clash of styles with the League 1 side likely to get the ball down and play through the thirds.
Before putting four past Swindon, the Dons hadn’t been frequent scorers on the road having netted just four times in their previous six league away games. And in this competition, they’ve squeezed past lower league opponents by the barest of margins. They saw off Eastleigh on penalties before beating Barnet 1-0 thanks to an 82nd-minute winner from Cameron Jerome.
The fact they’ve struggled to put two bottom-half National League sides to the sword suggests this could be a battle they’ll struggle to find the net in as well. Yes, the unknown about Burnley’s Covid issues would be a concern.
We all know Dyche builds his sides on strong foundations and they’ll battle to make it four clean sheets in their last six games in this one. And with home advantage, they should be able to see off their League One opposition.
Last season’s FA Cup games were out of character for Burnley. They beat Peterborough 4-2 before losing 2-1 here. Yet before that, their five previous FA Cup home ties dating back to 2015 had all finished with Under 2.5 Goals. At evens, that Under 2.5 Goals does look a sound play. Interestingly, MK Dons have tended to find the net against teams higher up the table in their league rather than those around them.
Although they’ve scored just 12 in 11 away league games and just once in two FA Cup ties, so they haven’t been frequent scorers, and neither have Burnley. The Clarets have scored just nine times in 15 league games this season, with five of those coming in their seven home games. Turf Moor is their happy place and the fortress is unlikely to be breached, although MK Dons will make a good fist of things.
A narrow home win won’t surprise many and that’s what is most likely to happen with Burnley’s fringe players stepping up and giving Dyche something to think about for their game against Man Utd in the league. I’ll be taking unders.
Cheltenham v Mansfield | Sunday 10th January, 13:30 | The FA Player
It might be the 3rd Round but here we have two League 2 vying for a spot in round four – it’s a great opportunity for both, so there’s plenty of incentive.
Michael Duff’s Cheltenham have been praised by Gary Neville this week. The Sky pundit said the Robins are the best side he’s seen in League Two, so high praise indeed. But it’s been a difficult recent run with three draws and two defeats in their last five. And worryingly for them, they’ve scored just once in those games.
Mansfield are bouncing right now. They’ve thoroughly turned a corner since the appointment of Nigel Clough and they made it three league wins on the bounce with a 2-1 win over Salford in midweek.
Clough praised that team performance in his Cheltenham pre-match press conference and believes his side will be resolute once more while offering plenty of threat. One man he singled out for praise was Jamie Reid – “he’s playing as well as anybody” said Clough.
While the formbook does somewhat go out of the window in cup games, Mansfield are a side on the up. Both of these sides have already knocked out League One opposition. Cheltenham defeated Crewe after extra time in the previous round and Mansfield saw off Sunderland at the Stadium of Light back in November.
With such a big reward as a spot in the 4th Round – the prize money and the chance to meet a Premier League side – should mean this is quite keenly contested. Seeing 30+ Booking Points at 4/5 on SkyBet has to appeal with the referee being Tom Nield. This will be his 18th game of the season having already dished out 62 yellows in 17 games – an average of 3.6 per game.
In 11 of those 17 games, he’s shown at least three cards. And last month’s four games saw him show 24 in total – 5, 7, 6 and 6.
Looking through his record from last season as well to see what he’s like in cup games doesn’t give too much of an indication. His Booking Point totals in cup matches in 19/20 were: 30, 30, 45 & 20. While this season they have been: 10, 70, 10, 20 & 0.
Despite his league record that is a bit of a dip, but the 70 did come in a Mansfield cup game. They lost 3-0 to Man City U21s in the EFL Trophy and four of those seven cards went the way of the Stags.
A combined record for Cheltenham at home and Mansfield away sees 14/21 of those respective games having 30+ Booking Points, including when these sides met in October.
It was a goalless draw that day, also here at Whaddon Road, where three Mansfield players found their way into the referee’s notebook. I’m hoping for a similar story here. Clough spoke about this being a good incentive for his players to reach the fourth round, so hopefully, that spurs both teams on to commit a few fouls, especially with a referee who hasn’t been card-shy of late.
Blackburn vs Doncaster – Blackburn to win and Over 1.5 Goals (21/20 Bet365)
Burnley vs MK Dons – Under 2.5 Goals (1/1 William Hill)
Cheltenham vs Mansfield – 30+ Booking Points (4/5 SkyBet)