After a hectic festive schedule, several Premier League teams are in danger of crashing out of the FA Cup at the third-round stage on Saturday including Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and Southampton.
The Terriers have lost their last eight Premier League games and are eight points away from safety so this weekend’s game against Bristol City may well be a precursor for a Championship fixture next term.
The Robins, who knocked Manchester United, Watford, Stoke City and Crystal Palace out of the League Cup last season before troubling Manchester City in the semi-finals, are 11th in the Championship table but are unbeaten in their last eight games.
Lee Johnson’s team earned a creditable 2-0 victory at Stoke on New Year’s Day and will be confident of beating Town at Ashton Gate at 5/4.
Derby to beat Southampton @ 17/10
Southampton also head into this weekend’s fixtures in the bottom three of the Premier League but they have improved recently under Ralph Hasenhuttl’s guidance and did well to draw 0-0 at Chelsea on Wednesday.
They face a troublesome trip to Frank Lampard’s Derby County team on Saturday though and Hasenhuttl may well opt to rest a host of players as he attempts to keep Saints in the top-flight.
The Rams, who beat Manchester United in the third round of this season’s League Cup, have only lost twice in 13 home Championship games this term and won 4-3 at high-flying Norwich City last weekend.
Derby are currently sixth and on course for a play-off spot and will be keen to see whether they can beat a struggling Premier League outfit.
Manchester United to beat Reading 3-0 @ 21/4
Manchester United can keep the new-found optimism at Old Trafford going by beating struggling Championship side Reading.
The Royals are five points away from safety and suffered an embarrassing 4-1 home defeat to Swansea City on Tuesday, a result that extended their winless sequence to 10 matches.
They have only scored two goals in their last six games and have yet to come to terms with new manager Jose Gomes’ methods.
The 48-year-old Portuguese boss replaced Paul Clement last month and will be prioritising Championship safety rather than an FA Cup run.
In contrast United will see the FA Cup as their best chance of silverware this season and they should romp to a straightforward triumph on Saturday.
Barnsley to beat Burnley by one goal @ 17/4
Bournemouth beat Brighton 2-0 in the league a fortnight ago and can repeat that scoreline at 17/2 while Burnley may struggle to defeat a Barnsley side at Turf Moor that are in good form in League One.
The Tykes are fourth and don’t concede many goals – only 22 in their first 25 league fixtures – and beat Blackpool, Peterborough United and Charlton over the festive period before holding Luton to a goalless draw at Kenilworth Road.
A narrow Barnsley victory against the Clarets is not out of the question.
Nottingham Forest shocked Arsenal at this stage of last season’s competition but lightning may not strike twice when they visit Stamford Bridge to take on the FA Cup holders.
Chelsea have found goals hard to come by recently, only finding the net four times in their four fixtures over the festive period.
A winless run of five games had increased the pressure on Forest boss Aitor Karanka after a big influx of expensive new signings last summer, but an impressive 4-2 victory against Leeds United appears to have given the Spaniard more time to lift his team into promotion contention.
West Ham win and both teams to score @ 37/20
Garry Monk has done an outstanding job at Birmingham City this season but a victory at West Ham may be beyond Blues, who are eighth in the Championship table despite failing to win any of their first eight games of the campaign.
They are unbeaten in five fixtures and only conceded one goal in their four festive games so the Hammers may have to be patient before breaching the Championship side’s well-organised defence.
A draw at half time and West Ham victory at full time is available at 3/1.
Crystal Palace should have little trouble brushing League Two outfit Grimsby Town aside with Patrick van Aanholt 16/1 to score the first goal in the encounter, while Everton will be wary of a Lincoln City side that reached the quarter-finals two years ago and are well-placed to secure promotion from League Two.
Arsenal to beat Blackpool 2-1 @ 35/4
Arsenal face Blackpool just over two months ago after edging to a 2-1 victory against Terry McPhillips’ team in the League Cup. A repeat of that scoreline is certainly not out of the question as Unai Emery seems certain to make wholesale changes to his starting line-up.
Newcastle United fans have grown accustomed to their side suffering early FA Cup exits and they will not be expecting to win the competition for the first time since 1955.
With relegation still a distinct possibility, Rafa Benitez is unlikely to look on a long FA Cup run as a good thing so the Magpies could be prone to an upset when Blackburn visit St James’ Park.
Tony Mowbray guided Rovers to promotion from League One at the first attempt last season and they look set for a mid-table finish at the higher level this term.
Blackburn brought a five-match winless run to an end by securing a fine victory against West Brom on New Year’s Day and could cause a shock on Tyneside with a Rovers victory good value at 4/1.
Cardiff to win by two goals @ 15/4
Finally Cardiff City’s style of play should ensure they do not suffer defeat at League One side Gillingham.
Neil Warnock’s team have proved many pundits wrong by being outside the relegation zone after 21 matches and the Gills face a battle of their own to remain in the third tier.
Steve Lovell’s side struggle at home – they have already lost seven league games at the Priestfield Stadium – and they do not appear to have the armoury to trouble a resolute Bluebirds side.