FA Cup: Blades backed to progress in Berkshire

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JACK LAMBDEN (@_JackL_) shares his views on the best betting opportunities from Tuesday night's FA Cup 5th Round fixtures.

Reading v Sheffield United | Tuesday 3rd March 2020, 20:00 

Reading’s topsy-turvy season was encapsulated in two home games in the past week, going down 3-0 last Wednesday to Wigan and then beating in-form Barnsley to establish an eight point buffer over the relegation zone.

Living nearby to Reading, I know a few people that go and watch them on a regular basis and prior to that 2-0 success over Barnsley, there was real concern that they were getting sucked backed into the danger zone that they had worked so hard to evade.

A season ticket holder described the Wigan performance as amongst the worst he’s ever seen from the Royals but that the win a few days later was like watching a different team.

The clean sheet earned against Barnsley, despite facing 23 shots on their own goal, could be down to the timely return of on-loan Matt Miazga. The Berkshire club’s downturn in form seemed to coincide with Miazga’s one month injury lay-off but as the win over the Tykes was his first game back, Mark Bowen may want to hold-off giving the American another full 90 minutes against much tougher opponents.

Bowen has however stated that he will go full-strength here as the club look to reach the quarter-final stage for the first time since 2016.

Given Reading’s inconsistency, I’m happy to back the away side. It’s not at all surprising that Sheffield United have rotated so heavily in the FA Cup this season with Chris Wilder prioritising his side’s remarkable Premier League campaign instead. Wilder has expressed a need to rotate with caution however to ensure that his side do not lose momentum in their pursuit of European football.

They pragmatically negotiated their way past a trip to the Den in Round Four in a very professional performance and whatever starting eleven Wilder names, he takes pride in knowing that his players treat every game the same way. With some names set to start that haven’t had too many minutes of late, they will be chomping at the bit to make a mark and try and force their way into the Premier League XI.

Reading are a tough nut to crack when they have a fully fit defence but I think United will just have too much quality for them in the end. When you add the Blades’ two FA Cup victories this season to their Premier League matches, only one of the 29 played have gone over the 4.5 goal line so a Sheffield United win and Under 4.5 Goals, priced at 23/20 with Coral, seems a sensible way to go.

West Brom v Newcastle | Tuesday 3rd March 2020, 20:00 | BBC

West Brom suffered a shock home defeat to Wigan at the weekend to halt their positive run of form which put them in good stead for a return to the Premier League.

Their weekend was a bit of a nightmare really, with their own nil point return coming alongside wins for promotion rivals Leeds and Fulham. In the context of the season, a defeat on Saturday – whilst of course not welcomed – may serve as a wake-up call and prevent any potential future complacency.

That loss and the corresponding other results has cut Albion’s lead over third place to six points and it likely means that Slaven Bilic will not put out as strong a side for this cup match as he may well have done before.

In fact, Bilic has described the hosting of Newcastle as a ‘bonus game’ and that his side need to get back on track in the Swansea game this coming weekend rather than this midweek match which suggested a ‘weakened’ side will be fielded.

West Brom have only used 25 players this season, the joint second lowest in the Championship and, although they have good squad depth in comparison to some of the other clubs in the second tier, there’s no doubting that certain players will be in need of a rest ahead of the gruelling run-in to the end of the season.

Newcastle meanwhile are stuttering and are on an extraordinary run of six hours of Premier League football without a goal. Steve Bruce boldly tried to shake things up for Saturday’s game with Burnley, switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation and deploying record signing Joelinton in a wide role and playing Jonjo Shelvey off of Dwight Gayle.

Despite racking up 21 attempts on goal however, the Geordies failed to find a way past Nick Pope in the Burnley goal which left the home fanbase frustrated.

Despite a poor run of results it has to be said that Bruce has, from the outside looking in at least, done a good job at St James’ Park in steadying the ship following Rafa Benitez’s departure. Having Mike Ashley as your boss can never be easy and although the manager will take the blame for many of the team’s frailties, he’s negotiated a squad ravaged by injuries through much of the season to 32 points.

The team have outperformed all the data metrics to get to where they are now and, although they will almost certainly fall short of the 48 points gained last season, they are only a couple of wins away from Premier League survival which has to be considered success given the continuing question mark around the ownership of the club.

It’s likely that Bruce will also rotate for this game but given his lack of options, not to the same degree as the Baggies. I would expect to see the influential Alan Saint-Maximin to come back in from the start. The colourful character scored a terrific winner in Round Four at Oxford and if he starts, I think he could swing what looks a relatively unappealing tie on paper in Newcastle’s favour. The team need a win in any way shape or form to stop the rot and I think this presents the ideal opportunity.

The Barcodes are 11/10 at +0 on the Asian Handicap lines with Bet365 which, considering the expected line-ups, is a price that could drop just before kick-off. This bet is the same as backing them on the ‘Draw No Bet’ markets but the Asian lines offer better odds.

Best Bets

Reading v Sheffield United – Sheffield United to win and Under 4.5 Goals (23/20 Coral)

West Brom v Newcastle – Newcastle +0 Asian Handicap (11/10 Bet365)

About Author

I've been betting on football since 2011, a year when I made a fair bit of money on Southampton to win each home game after a New Year's resolution to be more optimistic about my side’s chances. After 21 wins at St Mary’s out of 22, I’d built up a fair pot of money! I enjoy researching (almost!) as much as the winning, using a combination of stats, team news, context and general football knowledge to make my selections. Outside of football, you’ll find me down the pub enjoying a few pints or at a gig most likely if the girlfriend will allow it!

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