GW 25 – Ones to Watch

Matt: Back in the day, the FA Cup 3rd Round was quite a momentous occasion and a weekend eagerly anticipated by fans from across the land. Much of the romance seems to have disappeared from it now unfortunately, as clubs put far more focus on their league status (given the money involved) and as a result managers tend to put out weakened sides – in the early rounds at least. Having said that, it didn’t stop Tottenham Hotspur from hammering 7 past Tranmere Rovers on Friday evening, so if the rest of the weekend follows suit then Club 100 could be seeing some serious business!

It’s nigh on impossible to ignore the FA Cup fixtures, regardless of whether you think the Premier League and Championship teams aren’t going to go full strength. Clearly the likes of Man City, Man Utd & Arsenal are all going to be very popular, but another Prem team who desperately need a win are Everton. With just one win in their previous eight league matches, the cup should provide a welcome distraction for The Toffees, with boss Marco Silva well aware that anything other than victory over League Two leaders Lincoln City will really ramp up the pressure on his position. Back to back home defeats, including a 6-2 demolition job by Spurs, have also not gone down well with the Goodison Park faithful, so i would expect Silva to put out a fairly strong team. Lincoln have only lost one of their last nine games, but they are slightly suspect on the road. They reached the quarter finals of this competition just two years ago, famously knocking out Premier League Burnley along the way, but i see their cup run coming to a much sharper end this time.

It’s not solely about the cup though, there’s also plenty to go at elsewhere. One team who has been pretty popular throughout this season is Arbroath. They stormed to the top of the league and pulled miles clear in the first half of the campaign, but have come a little unstuck in recent games, including a 2-0 home defeat to nearest challengers Raith Rovers in their previous home game. The Red Lichties still hold a healthy 11 point advantage over Raith though and Saturday’s match against a toiling Brechin City side should provide the perfect opportunity to get back in the groove. City have won just once away from home all season in the league and haven’t managed a single clean sheet – surely that statistic won’t come to an end here! Six successive defeats, one of which was a 5-1 home reversal against Arbroath themselves, mean that the visitors are only off the bottom because of a superior goal difference over Stenhousemuir………another thrashing by Arbroath here and they won’t even have that to fall back on! Good luck to you all.

Ally: I’m sticking with the FA Cup for both of my predictions this week. First up is Bramall Lane, where Championship high flyers Sheffield United take on mid table National League side Barnet. There are 83 places separating the Blades and the Bees in the football league pyramid, and while I fully expect Chris Wilder to make changes to his Sheffield United team, the squad should be in buoyant mood coming off the back of 3 straight league wins in which they scored 3 goals in each game. A slight word of caution is that the visitors do have a good away record in the league, winning 7 of their last 11 games and conceding just 9 goals in the process, but whoever comes in for United should still have suficient quality to see off the challenge of Barnet. 

For my other tip I’m going for Premier League Watford in their away tie at National League South team Woking. Despite many people expecting them to struggle, Watford have had a good season so far under the stewardship of Spaniard Javi Gracia, currently occupying 8th place in the league, and there are just 110 places separating them from their opponents in the pyramid. Woking are doing well in their own right though, as they sit second in the South division, 2 points off leaders Torquay but with 2 games in hand. However, I would still expect whatever team Watford put out to have the quality to overcome the physicality Woking will bring, and get the job done in a professional way. Good luck with your selections.