GW 26 – Ones to Watch

Matt: A steady rather than spectacular start to 2020 for the majority of you, although that Global League Table would have looked a heck of a lot ‘redder’ but for injury time goals from the likes of Accrington Stanley and Northampton Town. It’s never over ’til it’s over in this game.

GW 26 offers up a real treat by way of the English FA Cup fixtures being available and without doubt these are going to be hugely popular with many of you. I’m certainly going to be dipping into them and that begins right here in the ‘Ones to Watch’ – and on this occasion i can make no apologies for picking out teams that are strong favourites to win! First up it’s a rejuvenated Watford in their Third Round match at home to Tranmere Rovers. Since appointing Nigel Pearson in early December, The Hornets look to have been completely transformed and their return of 10 points from a possible 12 in their last four league matches suggests that they’ve really turned a corner. That run has included impressive home victories over Manchester United, Aston Villa and Wolves, scoring 7 times in the process, so a tie against an out of sorts League One side at Vicarage Road should mean that more goals are on the cards here. On Wednesday afternoon, Rovers got a 4-1 beating on Merseyside by Coventry City to get their new year off to a dreadful start, a result that dropped them into the relegation zone. They may well see the FA Cup as a welcome distraction from their current woes, but with just one clean sheet in their past 16 games in all competitions, you have to fancy Watford to send them back North without making it two in 17.

Sticking with the same competition, as there’s just so much to go at, my second tip is Championship side Cardiff City as they take on League Two outfit Carlisle United in the Welsh capital. The Bluebirds were absolutely battered at QPR on NYD, the 6-1 hammering their worst defeat for over a decade. Manager Neil Harris, who has overseen some fine results since taking over the Cardiff hot-seat from Neil Warnock a few months ago, has made no secret of his desire and determination to make amends immediately so i’m fully expecting a strong response from the home team. Similarly, The Cumbrians also suffered a heavy loss on Wednesday, a 4-1 thrashing at Crewe Alexandra, so it would appear unlikely that a cagey encounter is on the menu. A 4-1 scoreline was also the outcome these two sides last met back way in 2001, in Cardiff’s favour i should add, and a similar result here wouldn’t be too much of a shock given the distance between the two in terms of league positions – however, this is the FA Cup and as we’ve seen time and time again, nothing can be taken for granted in this competition. Good luck to you all, don’t be on the receiving end of any cup upsets now!

Ally: My first tip of 2020 takes me to Scottish League Two, for the top versus bottom clash which sees pace setters Cove Rangers travel to Brechin City. The visitors have taken the division by storm since their arrival from the Highland League, and it looks a straight fight between them and Edinburgh for the automatic promotion place to League One, which ironically enough is where Brechin were plying their trade last season. However they have endured a torrid last 18 months or so as they plummeted out of League One and clearly failed to adapt to their new surroundings. While Cove boast a perfect home record of 9 wins from 9, their away record is less convincing (albeit still joint best in the league) and more importantly they have scored in every game including each of their 3 league defeats and scoring 22 goals in 9 matches, and I’m sure they will see this as an ideal opportunity to record another 3 points.

I’m leaving the more obvious FA Cup picks for you to find, and proposing an alternative in the shape of in form National League side Harrogate Town for my next tip, as they welcome Maidenhead United to Wetherby Road. After a sluggish start to the season which saw a couple of home defeats and a 0-0 draw, they haven’t looked back since mid September, winning 8 out 10 home games in all competitions and scoring in every match, including a creditable 2-1 defeat to League One outfit Portsmouth in the FA Cup. This run has propelled them firmly into the play off picture, while visitors Maidenhead occupy the lower mid table in 17th place. Despite this Maidenhead boast the 4th best record in the division this term, but recent form has been more patchy with 3 defeats from the last 5 and just one clean sheet in 11 matches in all competitions on the road, and so I think Harrogate will fancy their chances here.