CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) looks ahead to a busy FA Cup 3rd Round day on Saturday.
Bolton v Crystal Palace | Saturday 15:00
Let me get my excuses in early. Betting on the FA Cup 3rd Round is not for the conservative punter. It's a minefield of guesswork trying to figure out which players will play and which clubs actually care.
One guy with a big job on his hands is Sam Allardyce who took over at Crystal Palace on the cusp of Christmas. I think he's got bigger things on his mind than an FA Cup tie against a League One side.
Palace's loss to Swansea earlier this week has set alarm bells in motion as Palace moved within three points of the bottom. They could sink to 19th place by the end of next weekend.
On Tuesday night Allardyce blamed tiredness for his side's poor defeat and with such a bruising festive schedule fresh in the mind and legs the next week and a half allow chance for respite.
It would be a huge shock if Palace put out a very strong team on Saturday and no doubt Allardyce will be firmly focused on their game against West Ham next Saturday.
Bolton have a different sort of pressure with League One promotion firmly on the 2017 wish list. Phil Parkinson's side sit in second place and have won 11 of their last 14 league games.
They boast, by far, the sturdiest defence in the division with just 17 leaked all season long and come into this fixture in strong shape with rotation unlikely.
This tie also lends a bit of spice to Third Round day with Allardyce sculpting his reputation in the North West at Bolton. The former England boss took Wanderers into the UEFA Cup in the last decade – some achievement that.
Hopefully Parkinson can use the above fact to motivate his players as the crowd certainly will. The Bolton boss was the man at the Bradford helm when they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the decade.
As for Allardyce, well I doubt he'll care what the Bolton fans think of him. Here was a man who saw his Premier League side West Ham humped 5-0 by Nottingham Forest in the 2014 FA Cup. The big man has bigger things on his mind than this match. Bolton DNB for me.
Brentford v Eastleigh | Saturday 15:00
The next two games epitomise what FA Cup Third Round should be about. Small clubs playing era-defining matches against grander opponents. As a football fan these are the games I want to watch on TV.
Brentford's match against Eastleigh allows me to dip into my favourite betting market – Team Over 0.5 Goals. As you can imagine, it's Eastleigh who fit that market.
The National League side ruffled a few feathers last season in the FA Cup when knocking out Crewe and holding Bolton in the 3rd Round. They eventually succumbed 3-2 in the replay but it was a valiant effort.
Martin Allen's side currently sit 11th in the fifth tier but have been locked in high scoring fixtures over the last few weeks. A 3-3 draw against Halifax has been followed by a 4-3 loss at Southport and a 2-2 draw against Boreham Wood.
You have to go back five years to find the last time they failed to score in an FA Cup match. That's 15 games in a row and just once in 28 FA Cup conquests.
The squad looks threadbare but you can imagine the exuberant Allen will have them well tuned for this. I'll back them to score at 33/50 with Marathon Bet.
Wycombe v Stourbridge | Saturday 15:00
This looks another intriguing fixture but I fancy it may prove all too much for Stourbridge. The Northern Premier League side have performed miracles getting this far but they're bumping into a very smart Wycombe side.
The League Two outfit (excluding the derisory EFL Trophy) are unbeaten in their last 13 encounters and have moved up into the fourth tier Top 5.
The potent strikeforce of Scott Kashket and Ade Akinfenwa have been causing League Two defences all sorts of problems and will surely relish this match up with Stourbridge.
Your heart wants Stourbridge to win on Saturday and they also come into the game on a 13 match unbeaten run but sit mid-table in the Northern Premier Division.
Gareth Ainsworth seems the ideal time to fire up the larger side of Wycombe here and the gap of three tiers looks big. I expect Wycombe to dominate at Adams Park and I'll back them -1.5 Asian Handicap at 4/5.
Bolton v Crystal Palace – Bolton draw no bet (163/100 Marathon)
Brentford v Eastleigh – Eastleigh to score Over 0.5 Goals (33/50 Marathon)
Wycombe v Stourbridge – Wycombe -1.5 Asian Handicap (4/5 Marathon)
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