With an 80% win rate (16-4) heading into the new year, Adrian Clarke is bullish on a couple of FA Cup fancies this weekend!
Happy New Year! After a short break I’m back with some more EFL-related tips, this week from the third round of the FA Cup where I’ve picked out two possible upsets…
The Gas Can Send Wilder’s Men Packing
Drained, demoralized and jammed in what feels like an inescapable winless rut, Sheffield United look like vulnerable prey in this weekend’s FA Cup third round.
Bristol Rovers drew the Blades out of the hat and I don’t think they will feel too disappointed to be hosting them on Saturday afternoon.
Buoyed by a run that’s seen them win three of their last four League 1 games under new boss Paul Tisdale there is a renewed buzz around the Memorial Stadium – and they might just smell blood.
On paper, the Blades should have too much quality for a third-tier team (and that may indeed turn out to be the case) but their underlying numbers do not fill you with much confidence.
Sheffield United have scored just four goals in nine road trips; they have failed to find the net in 55% of away games, and not once have they scored more than once away from Bramall Lane.
Yes that’s against top class opposition but with morale so low it won’t be easy to produce a sudden change, especially in a testing FA Cup tie against highly motivated opponents.
Chris Wilder won’t see this as a priority either.
Does he really need the distraction of a cup run?
They host Newcastle United in a hugely important league game little over 72 hours after this clash and that surely all but guarantees a severely weakened starting XI.
When you ‘throw a team together’ for one-off matches it’s hard to find cohesion so that should level the playing field to some degree.
All of this plays into the hands of Paul Tisdale, who famously earned a replay with Liverpool as Exeter City boss back in 2016.
His FA Cup record is not great apart from that but he does have talented players within his set up at Bristol Rovers.
Sam Nicholson has scored some wonderful individual goals this season, Brandon Hanlan is a promising target man and behind them attacking midfielders Erhun Oztumer and Zain Westbrooke have tons of ability.
Rovers are 4.55 underdogs for a reason so it is not worth going big on there is still value to be had.
You may also want to look at the handicap market too and that is where I am heading.
My pick is Bristol Rovers +0.75 goals on the Asian Handicap at 1.82.
Navigating their way safely past this slippery banana skin is not going to be easy for Sheffield United.
MK Dons Can Be Competitive At Turf Moor
Tipping up a bottom-half League 1 side to upset the odds away to a Premier League club is a bold shout but I genuinely feel MK Dons have a chance to spring a surprise at Burnley this weekend.
Even if they don’t they can certainly run the Clarets close.
Results have been mixed, to say the least for Russell Martin’s men this term but they are a tremendously confident outfit who won’t be fazed one bit by Turf Moor.
MK Dons, who have won their last two, are also surprisingly sophisticated.
They play out from the back, have incredible rotational movement and love to be confident in possession.
Importantly, ahead of this tie they also have a nice sprinkling of experience too.
Cameron Jerome is their joint leading scorer, in midfield 34-year-old Andrew Surman remains a quality footballer, and at the back Richard Keogh and Dean Lewington (combined age of 70) offer nous and leadership aplenty.
MK’s main man is left-footed midfield maestro Scott Fraser.
He scores goals, makes goals, and was part of the Burton Albion team that saw off Aston Villa, Burnley, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough en route to the EFL Cup semi-final in 2018-19.
Burnley are teak-tough we know that, but under Sean Dyche they don’t have a very good FA Cup record.
The only time the Clarets have progressed beyond round four during his tenure they were beaten at home by Lincoln City, and you would expect some of their better players to be handed a breather for this one.
Burnley are not a high scoring side either (scoring only five goals on home turf in the top flight this season) so this clash could easily be a close run thing.
Personally I think it’s well worth looking at MK Dons with +1 on the Asian Handicap, which is available at 1.91.
Another point to note is that MK Dons are not involved in a lot of away day free-for-alls.
Only 18% of their road trips have featured more than three goals, and up against a Burnley team not blessed with an abundance of creative magic this has the look of another low scoring affair.
In fact that is my selection for this encounter.
With four + goals the only way to lose your full stake under 2.75 goals on the Asian Handicap appeals at 1.83.
- Bristol Rovers +0.75 goals – 1.82
- Burnley v MK Dons Under 2.75 goals – 1.83