Sheffield United are one of four Saturday FA Cup bets from our expert Mike Holden.
The Blades might not be shouting it from the rooftops but a desperate season has burst into life since the third round draw was made, arousing the suspicion that this bunch of Legaue One misfits, so used to being a prized scalp at their own level, have bought into the idea that the roles can be reversed here.
Having won just three of their previous 15 league matches, Nigel Adkins’ men then won three on the spin after being paired with the Red Devils and though emotions have been kept in check by a smash-and-grab defeat to free-scoring Peterborough last time out, there’s a distinct lack of trepidation about what awaits when the Blades step out, backed by 9,000 of their own supporters, at the Theatre of Dreams - and that’s half the battle.
Six years ago, the Mancunians were Premier League champions when they were dumped out by a Jermaine Beckford goal at an almost identical price against third-tier Leeds but their aura has faded since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and there’s enough higher-level pedigree among the visiting ranks to believe a repeat is possible.
In previous years, a trip to Old Trafford was a real test of nerve for lesser mortals who feared being on the wrong side of a 5-0 or 6-0 defeat, but United don’t go after teams the same way anymore. For the Yorkshire club, there must be great comfort in knowing their hosts have only netted a dozen times in ten home matches. All things considered, the away win is worth chancing at odds of 11/1.
The final chapter of the Manuel Pellegrini era hasn’t quite unfolded yet but with rumours abound that Pep Guardiola is set to take over next season, there’s growing apathy in performances under the Chilean, particularly away from home, enough to believe that a total meltdown might be imminent. The Sky Blues have won only one their last eight domestic away games, during which time they’ve tasted defeat four times, scored just five goals and conceded 11. The root of the problem was suitably demonstrated in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup defeat against Everton. City registered 18 shots at Goodison but tested the opposition goalkeeper just four times, which means they’ve mustered just 23 on-target efforts out of the last 110 attempts. Norwich might be embroiled in a battle for Premier League survival but three wins over the festive period have eased their relegation concerns dramatically and a game against City won’t be nearly as daunting at Carrow Road in light of how unlucky they were to go down 2-1 in the dying moments in the league meeting at the Etihad two months ago.
Last season, the Rams were in an almost identical position, just three points off the top, but needed an injury-time penalty to see-off non-league Southport at home, while the likes of Norwich (twice), Cardiff, Hull, Reading and West Ham have all been beaten by lower-division opposition at the first hurdle when similarly-placed over the past five seasons.
Hartlepool might be languishing in the lower reaches of the basement just three points above the drop zone but they won’t be overly concerned by relegation issues while they have four games in hand on all their rivals and conditions on the windswept Teesside coast at this time of year are always liable to be a leveller.
Blackburn themselves were handed a favourable schedule over the festive period when their Boxing Day game with Middlesbrough was postponed but their rest advantage counted for very little in subsequent away games at Bolton and Cardiff. They lost both games 1-0 having barely troubled the opposition goalkeeper and a lack of cutting edge could be their undoing here.
For those who dare to dream, the four trebles range between 175/1 and 420/1 with Bet Victor, while the four-timer pays over 2000/1. Spread a point between those five permutations and you’re looking at a 650-point bonanza should all four teams oblige. Which would be nice!