GW 31 – Ones to Watch

Matt: After January’s ‘free for all’ with scores absolutely rocketing for many of you, the opening weekend of February quickly brought a lot of players back down to earth! This game has a habit of biting you when you least expect it and i certainly don’t think those of you who picked the likes of (heavily backed) Leeds Utd or Rangers expected them to fire blanks in what were widely regarded to be routine home wins. No such thing, as we’ve found out many, many times in TUG!

In GW 31 we have two cup competitions available for selection, the FA Trophy and the Scottish Cup, and already this season both of them have produced the goods to help players chalk up some sensational scores. That could well be the case again here and it’s the aforementioned FA Trophy where i’ll head for my first tip. Halifax Town are flying in the National League, taking 13 points from a possible 15 to surge back into title contention, but they also appear to be taking this competition seriously if results in the previous two rounds are anything to go by; after thrashing Wrexham 4-0 they went to another National League outfit in Torquay Utd and won 2-1 there. Now they’ve reached the quarter-finals it’s hard to envisage they’ll turn their back on a possible trip to Wembley in favour of league points, so i’d expect a near full strength team to line up against Southern Central Division One side Halesowen Town. Word of warning though, this is unlikely to be a formality; The Yeltz may ply their trade a few leagues below their hosts, but they’re in fantastic form themselves and besides looking nailed on for promotion they have also knocked out no less than seven other teams to reach this stage – including another National League team, Maidenhead Utd. The Shaymen of Halifax will need to continue their recent good form in front of goal if they are to progress to the semi-finals, they’ve scored 11 in their past three home games and i think both teams will go out to attack one another in an attempt to win this tie at the first opportunity……neither will want a replay that’s for sure!

In Scotland’s League Two, the match between Edinburgh City and Annan Athletic really should produce some goals – certainly for the home side anyway! Despite recent shock reversals against Queen’s Park and Stirling at their Ainslie Park ground, City must surely be odds on to return to winning ways here as opponents Annan are rock bottom of the form guide following a run of five straight defeats and just a solitary win in their previous eight matches. During that period they’ve conceded a whopping 23 times and never less than twice in every single one, with the likes of Albion Rovers and Elgin City hammering 4 past them. The Black and Golds have also lost against Edinburgh three times already this season, conceding 10 goals in the process, so the capital city side clearly have the beating of their visitors. If The Citizens really are serious about challenging current table toppers Cove Rangers for the title, then this is a game they simply must win against a struggling Annan team who look totally bereft of confidence at the moment. if Edinburgh can rediscover their home form from earlier in the campaign, when they won eleven and drew once between August and Boxing Day, then they should have no issues finding the net in this fixture. Good luck to you all.

Ally: After last week’s disastrous selection of Leeds United (though I must stress not one of my Ones to Watch!), I’m looking to regain my scoring touch and the first team to catch my eye are my old friends Cove Rangers from Scottish League Two. The Wee Rangers have been setting the pace for most of the season, but they only have a 6 point cushion between themselves and nearest rivals Edinburgh City, and Saturday sees them make the trip to play off chasing Elgin City. Cove may have lost 4 of their last 8 matches on the road, but they have managed to score in all but one of them, while Elgin have lost 4 of their last 6 at Borough Briggs and have just 2 home clean sheets to their name all season (with one of those being on opening day!), and so I’m backing the visitor’s prolific attack to prevail here.

My other tip comes from the Championship, where arguably the division’s most stylish team Brentford welcome revitalised Middlesbrough to Griffin Park. The Bees have rightly won many plaudits over the past couple of seasons for their attractive and attacking playing style, and have the ability to simply blow teams away particularly if they can score an early goal. After 3 matches without scoring they returned to form in spectacular fashion last weekend, putting a Hull City side shorn of its 2 best players (sold in the January transfer window) to the sword running out 5-1 winners. Boro will arrive in confident mood as they are on a run of just one league defeat in their previous 8 matches, and also took Premier League Spurs to a replay in the FA Cup. Indeed their last 2 defeats have both come in London, and Brentford will be looking to make that 3 as they try to cement their play off spot.