THE FA Cup 1st Round kicks-off on Friday – will Haringey provide the romance or will favourites Wimbledon prevail? Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his best bets.
Haringey Borough v Wimbledon | Friday 9th November 2018, 19:55 | BBC
Culturally and historically, AFC Wimbledon are used to being the underdogs thriving in adversity.
On Friday night though, they must embrace the favourites tag against non-league hosts Haringey Borough, who anticipate the biggest night in their history.
Haringey make their bow
Haringey Borough, promoted last season into the seventh tier, are now playing at the highest level they have ever graced.
While Boro are 18th in the Isthmian League Premier Division with games in hand, there is a feeling that performances have merited more points than 12 from 11.
Indications suggest they line-up with something akin to a 4-3-3; except two of their midfielders are likely to be comfortable dropping deeper when required.
The third midfielder, Georgios Aresti, could occupy an advanced role; the Cypriot, potentially a key player for the North Londoners, would be tasked with triggering the press and linking play quickly.
The Boro possess pace going forward; if Karl Akinwande’s suspension is rescinded, he might be favoured up top for his powerful running. The obvious threat meanwhile, is the skilful Joel Nouble, the nine-goal top scorer who loves to cut inside from the left channel.
We can expect a spirited performance from Haringey, who are the only survivors from the FA Cup Preliminary Rounds and have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in their history.
Whatever happens on Friday night, chairman Aky Achillea, manager Tom Loizou, the loud fans at Coles Park and everybody connected with Haringey deserves immense credit for the club’s rise.
Strife at Wimbledon
AFC Wimbledon appear to be coming to the end of an era.
The club are moving to Plough Lane in 2020 and sections of the board want Neal Ardley to be the man to lead them back to what they see as their spiritual home.
In some ways, that is understandable. Ardley played for the original club for 11 years and, as a manager, he has been an influential figure behind the Wombles’ rise within the EFL.
Results though, cannot be ignored: Wimbledon have lost seven on the spin, they are the division’s lowest goalscorers with just 11 in 17 and are six points adrift of safety.
The most worrying aspect of the situation is that Ardley, himself, does not appear confident of turning results around.
Seventh-tier scalps rare
Teams from the seventh-tier and below have faced EFL opposition 15 times in this competition over the last two seasons.
Thirteen of those encounters have seen the favourites prevail; on 10 occasions, they have done so by more than one goal and by more than two on six.
Hereford drew 1-1 at Fleetwood last season to earn a replay and Stourbridge stunned Northampton with a 1-0 win the season before.
Hereford though won the 2017-18 Southern League Premier Division title – and have a massive fanbase and budget for their level due to being a phoenix club of Hereford United.
Stourbridge meanwhile, finished third in their 2016-17 Northern Premier League campaign and reached the play-off final.
This tells us that for a seventh-tier side to be able to enjoy success against EFL opposition, they generally need to be performing well at the level they are at.
Of course, Haringey have held their own in the ILPD, but they have not yet done enough to suggest they will push for promotion with the current squad; for that reason, they should be judged as a slightly different case study to Hereford and Stourbridge.
Kwesi to be Appiah?
With AFC Wimbledon target man James Hanson expected to be sidelined through injury, Ardley is expected to pair Joe Pigott with Kwesi Appiah up top.
Appiah has struggled for confidence lately but he was boosted by a goal in the midweek 4-0 EFL Trophy win over Stevenage and his pace, which can be searing on a good day, may prove advantageous against a part-time defence.
The former Cambridge striker is an attractive 5/4 with BetVictor to score anytime.
Alternatively, Scott Wagstaff’s technical ability should be a class above his opponents and the wide man looks an intriguing option at 10/3 with Bet365 to bag at any point.
The betting angle
Of course, the lack of clear leadership at AFC Wimbledon is one factor behind their struggles in League One but the biggest issue is their squad is limited in ability relative to their level.
Put the same group of players against a team four divisions below and the performances are likely to change drastically.
Sometimes, we as tipsters place a lot of emphasis on the psychology at both clubs; while that is not insignificant, it is secondary to the ability of both sides.
For that reason, we’re taking Betfair’s Evens on AFC Wimbledon to win with a -1 handicap; value can be found by looking beyond the sense of crisis at Wimbledon and trusting that the gulf in quality will become evident.