When betting on the early rounds of the FA Cup, there’s a very simple system, rooted in basic psychology, that has generally served me well down the years. In a nutshell: back teams who are underachieving in the league, oppose teams who are overachieving or playing to their maximum. If you find a game comprising of two teams at both extremes of that scale, then all the better.

Let’s start by taking the 4/1 available on Fleetwood to beat Walsall as a prime example. The Cod Army might be 20 places further back in League One, having accumulated 17 points fewer after 16 matches, but they were actually a shorter price to win the title at the beginning of the season, chalked-up at 33/1 ahead of the Saddlers at 40s.

However, neither team is any stronger or weaker than they were in August, nothing significant has happened in the transfer market, the only difference is that Walsall struck upon the right formula. The summer capture of Jason Demetriou and emergence of youngster Rico Henry as suitable wing-backs has enabled them to deploy a 3-5-2 system that makes them greater than the sum of their parts.

Fleetwood, by contrast, made a solid signing in holding midfielder Jimmy Ryan, who was supposed to be the answer to most of Graham Alexander’s headaches regarding the balance of his team, but it hasn’t worked out that way. So Alexander has paid the ultimate price and now Stephen Pressley is the man charged with putting it right.

In short, the major difference is that Walsall are consumed by confidence and purpose in the league. They’ve got the bit between their teeth and might now see this competition as an obligation, an obstruction in the way of their overall objective, whereas Fleetwood, while simultaneously trying to impress a new manager, might also sense an opportunity to bring their campaign to life.

The game between Accrington and York is almost an exact carbon copy, albeit between two teams in the division below. Stanley were three times the price of the Minstermen before a ball had been kicked and though John Coleman’s men are making a mockery of their 150/1 ante-post quote, their 16-point advantage over Saturday’s visitors counts for nothing. The clock goes back to zero.

Like Fleetwood, York also have a new manager to impress with former Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara installed as successor to Russ Wilcox this week and it only adds spice to the 7/2 available on the away win that this will be his first game in charge. In this scenario, prior performance data has to be ignored. You look at the experience and pedigree of the respective squads and there’s not a great deal between them.

An important factor in each of the above examples is that expectations are kept in line with league form but poor league form is a problem when expectations remain high because of status. And if you’re looking for one of the day’s biggest shocks, consider the 24/5 available on Altrincham to beat Barnsley.

The Tykes head to Moss Rose on the back of seven straight league defeats, which leaves them mired in the League One drop zone with Lee Johnson on the brink. One can only assume confidence is in tatters and it’s even harder to imagine them overturning their poor form when they play a philosophy-based possession game that simply isn’t suited to cut-throat nature of knockout football, particularly at a non-league venue.

Altrincham aren’t pulling up any trees in the National League but, curiously, they have shown an appetite for taking big scalps. The Robins have only won four games at home but the victims have included relegated duo Tranmere and Cheltenham, and last season’s losing play-off finalists Grimsby. And it was a similar story last season. Alty beat six former league clubs on their own turf, including newcomers Bristol Rovers and Torquay.

The Fleetwood, York and Altrincham treble pays 121/1

Recommended Bets:

York to beat Accrington - 1pt @ 7/2
Altrincham to beat Barnsley - 1pt @ 24/5
Fleetwood to beat Walsall - 1pt @ 4/1