[u]Leeds v Blackburn[/u]
Leeds are playing well, there's no doubt about that. An opening day victory over Wolves was followed by an unlucky loss to early league leaders Blackpool before Neil Warnock's men got back to winning ways by beating Peterborough. Add in two impressive cup wins and it's four wins from five for United, 11 goals scored and just three conceded.
Blackburn have also started the season well going on results alone, but they haven't been playing great and that showed in midweek when they lost in the Capital One Cup to League One outfit MK Dons.
I sense Leeds are in for a good season and their form at Elland Road is going to be crucial if they are to be in the promotion picture come May. I'm not at all confident that Rovers will be there at the death however and ...
Adrian Lewis was criticised by Wayne Mardle and Eric Bristow for the manner of his performance in victory over Andy Smith. Although I can see where Mardle was coming from in his Sky Sports commentary, I cannot agree with the idea that he was in anyway intentionally disrespectful towards Pieman. It was, in my opinion, merely the nature of the match that led to Lewis looking lackadaisical at times; a slow early tempo with very little pressure put on Jackpot's throw, allowing him to cruise home, only upping the ante when required.
The fact that Lewis was able to up his game and take out big shots almost at will, should send out a harrowing message to the rest of the field. The two-time World Champion is on top of his game, and as mentioned in my Wednesday preview, has his eyes on the prize...
Ability and application are a lethal combination in any sport. The former has never been in doubt in regards to Adrian Lewis, but the latter is regularly brought in to question. When he turns it on Jackpot is unstoppable, as he has shown at the last two World Championships, but lacklustre performances at many of the season's other major tournaments have prevented the 27-year-old from stamping his authority as the world's best.
That could, however, all change this week as the World Matchplay title would also mean the world number one status for Lewis. The protégé could finally unseat the master.
With his 10-0 trouncing of UK Open champion Robert Thornton, Lewis laid down a marker to his competitors, one that nobody, Taylor included, has been able to pick up.
Next in line is world...
Tuesday night's matches involve four odds-on favourites at odds around 1.50 or shorter, but I could make a case for all four outsiders progressing to the second round. I certainly wouldn't be averse to suggesting backing all four outsiders to level stakes, with only two needing to come in for a healthy profit.
There is, however, one that I believe to be slightly better value than the others. The 3.2 available on Joe Cullen to beat Justin Pipe.
Cullen's run to the last 16 of the UK Open last month could, on reflection in a couple of year's time, mark the beginning of a special career. A player in control of his emotions and, on top of his game, Rockstar looks to have all the attributes required to make it in this sport. Now the youngster needs to take the next step and start establishing...
I said at the start of the Championship Play-Offs that I thought West Ham would prevail, and nothing I have seen so far has made me want to divert from that statement.
The Hammers looked a class apart in both legs against Cardiff. Okay, the Welsh side had a longer season than most and probably a thinner squad than their fellow promotion hopefuls. But they are still a very good side that was made to look decidedly ordinary both at home and in the return at Upton Park.
Back in the summer, many people felt it was a foregone conclusion that Sam Allardyce's side would bounce back to the Premier League automatically. Whether that spread into the Hammers' camp we will never know, but there were times that you were left with the feeling that they took on the air of a side that believed if...
You've got to hand it to Birmingham. In an era when we regularly hear top-flight players bleating about playing twice in a few days or having a fixture backlog due to their own success, it is refreshing to see the Blues in the play-offs at the end of a season where they have played a massive 60 games.
Not only have they had the standard 46 league games to cope with, but Chris Hughton's side have also played six domestic cup matches and a further eight fixtures in the Europa League.
And let's not forget, Birmingham were as low as 14th in the table at the start of 2012. They did climb as high as third in late February but then the sheer amount of football they have played probably took a toll as a run of one win in seven effectively ended any lingering hopes of automatic promotion.
[u]Blackpool v West Ham, KO: Tuesday 20:00[/u]
Everyone knows that games in hand are only any use if you win them - and as games in hand go, a trip to Blackpool is not the easiest. Ian Holloway's team selection for the FA Cup tie at Everton (he left out a number of regular starters) suggests he had an eye on this fixture, which is almost as important for the home side as it is for the visitors.
The Hammers will go top with a win, but a success for the Tangerines would move them third in the table. It's a tough one to call, given Blackpool are unbeaten in seven league games while the Hammers have won four of their last six. I think the way to go is to look for goals. Eight of Blackpool's last nine league games have produced Over 2.5 Goals, and they have only failed to score once themselves...
[u]Nottingham Forest v Burnley
Here we have the team with the worst current form at home hosting the team with the best current form away: someone tell me, then, why Nottingham Forest are favourites? Okay, Burnley are doing no better than bobbing around in mid-table but only leaders West Ham have won more games on the road that the Clarets, who have seven away wins. Eddie Howe's side have won four of the last five on their travels, and that includes victories at West Ham (1st), Middlesbrough (5th) and Hull (6th).
Forest, meanwhile, have lost five on the trot at home and not scored in any of them. Throw in the goalless FA Cup tie with Leicester, and Steve Cotterill's side have not scored in front of their own fans in nine hours of football stretching back to mid-November. Such ...
Weighing up form between teams from different divisions is the major problem for FA Cup punters, but there are some statistical guidelines that might make this weekend's third-round ties easier to solve.
One group that does consistently well is the top-12 in the Championship, who enter the competition with good form behind them in the first half of the season and often feature a surprise performer in the FA Cup, granted a favourable draw. Last season, for example, Reading were eighth in the Championship at this stage of the season and they progressed furthest of the teams from outside the Premier League, going out 1-0 away to eventual winners Manchester City in the quarter-finals.
With momentum on their side, the top-12 in the Championship usually deliver the goods when paired against...
It was as if the season had never even happened. West Ham, Wigan and Wolves in the relegation places, right where they started as the alphabetized league, before a ball had been kicked, intended. Recently Wolves have spoiled the fun rather for those wanting to see the three Ws go down for witty repartee - www.financialoblivion.com a starter for ten.
For those who are not a fan of those three clubs or Blackpool and have yet to stake their hard earned on the relegation outcome, it is, of course, no laughing matter.
Certainly in the case of West Ham and Wigan, if they fall through the trap door they will more than bruise their pride when they land in the Championship. West Ham believe relegation would cost them £40m that they just don't have. Wigan are in debt to the tune of £50m.