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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2008, 12:00am

The pick of four all-Premiership ties in the FA Cup third round is Aston Villa at home to Manchester United and, remarkably, it is the fourth time in seven seasons that the two clubs have met at this stage of the competition.

United have won the previous three meetings, with last season's 2-1 home win adding to away victories at Villa Park in 2002 and 2004. Villa have performed well in all three matches, but somehow United always seem to find a way to beat them. At Old Trafford last season Villa equalised with 15 minutes to go, but then United came up with a last-minute winner.

In 2004 Villa took the lead but conceded two goals in four minutes midway through the second half and lost 2-1. The 2002 defeat was even more galling, as Villa held a two-goal lead with 13 minutes left before conceding three goals in five minutes and losing 3-2.

United's stranglehold over Villa was tightened in the league fixture at Villa Park this season, which United won 4-1, again despite Villa taking the lead. That made it eight straight wins at Villa Park for United in the league and FA Cup. Going back to 1995 United's record at Villa in those two competitions is 11 wins and three draws from 14 visits.

Villa have been competitive in most of their games against United and the talent of players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor means they will end their United hoodoo eventually, but on form United rate one of the best bets in this weekend's FA Cup matches.

Martin O'Neill has turned Villa around, yet in eight home games this season against top-half Premier League teams they have won only three and lost four. United, meanwhile, have won 22 out of 33 of their away games in league and FA Cup against teams from outside the big four in the past two years - a win rate not reflected in their odds for tonight's match.

O'Neill said in midweek he was worried about the toll the tough holiday programme was taking on his small squad, and any tiredness will be exploited ruthlessly by United.

It is a pity Villa have been handed such a tough draw again, as they are one of the teams who might have been fancied to break the monopoly of the big four in the FA Cup.

Two more teams with reasonable hopes of reaching Wembley - Manchester City and 2006 runners-up West Ham - have been paired together.

City won the league fixture at West Ham 2-0 on the opening day of the season and have hardly looked back since. Their away record in the league is not great, however, as they have added only one more win in nine subsequent games on the road. That win was at Newcastle on Wednesday, so City come into this match in good heart, but so do West Ham after beating Manchester United in their last home match. City have the edge on the handicap, but this is a close one.

Home wins are likely in the other all-Premiership ties. Tottenham and Reading meet again at White Hart Lane just seven days after Spurs' thrilling 6-4 win in the league fixture. The Londoners have won six out of seven at home under Juande Ramos in all competitions and may win more comfortably this time. It wouldn't be a surprise if there were plenty of goals again.

Sunderland have performed well at home to lower-ranking sides in the Premier League, winning four and drawing two out of six against bottom-half teams, and look reasonably priced to beat Wigan.

Three Premiership sides are in danger of an upset away to top-six teams from the Championship. Ipswich v Portsmouth pits the Championship's best home side against the best away team in the Premier League and promises to be another exciting encounter. This is another repeat of a recent third-round meeting - Portsmouth won 1-0 at Portman Road in 2006 and have the edge again.

Middlesbrough are in more peril at Bristol City, who almost knocked out Boro in the fourth round last season. The first game at City ended 2-2 and so did the replay after extra-time, before Boro won 5-4 on penalties. City have since moved up a division, and taken the rise in class in their stride by moving into third place in the Championship, while Boro have dropped back.

Shockwaves of defeat would be felt most keenly on Tyneside if Newcastle are knocked out by Stoke. Newcastle are winless in four, have lost their past three, and have lost seven of their past nine on the road in all competitions, so the ingredients for an upset are there.

Stoke, though, have won fewer than half of their home games in the Championship and may lack the class to win, as long as Newcastle perform somewhere close to their mid-table Premier League standard.

Among lesser FA Cup ties, the best bets are Scunthorpe and Leicester on the handicap at Preston and Southampton respectively.

Closed shop

Teams from outside the big four (Tottenham, 1991, and Everton, 1995) who have won the FA Cup since Wimbledon's shock win over Liverpool in 1988: 2

Gaining ground

League places between Bristol City and Middlesbrough. Last season, when they drew twice in the FA Cup, the gap was 35 places: 8

Defending optional

Number of goals in all league matches involving Tottenham and Reading this season, averaging 3.64 goals per game: 153

Got your number

Manchester United's supremacy, in goals, in their eight straight wins at Aston Villa in league and cup: 14

Simply perfect

Home wins out of five for Santander against teams below them in La Liga. They can make it six against Bilbao: 5


Arsene Wenger has won the FA Cup four times and been the losing finalist once from 11 attempts, making Arsenal the most successful team in the competition in that period


Bristol City, Scunthorpe, Leicester, Sunderland, Manchester United, Santander.


$150 Santander, (HW Sun) is amp Last week: two winning bets out of four



FA Cup, third round: Aston Villa v Manchester United, Barnsley v Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers v Coventry City, Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield United, Brighton v Mansfield, Bristol City v Middlesbrough, Charlton Athletic v West Bromwich Albion, Chasetown v Cardiff City, Chelsea v QPR, Colchester United v Peterborough United, Everton v Oldham Athletic, Huddersfield Town v Birmingham City, Ipswich Town v Portsmouth, Norwich City v Bury, Plymouth Argyle v Hull City, Preston North End v Scunthorpe United, Southampton v Leicester City, Southend United v Dagenham & Redbridge, Sunderland v Wigan Athletic, Swansea City v Havant and Waterlooville, Swindon v Barnet, Tottenham Hotspur v Reading, Tranmere Rovers v Hereford United, Walsall v Millwall, Watford v Crystal Palace, West Ham United v Manchester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers v Cambridge United.


FA Cup, third round: Burnley v Arsenal, Derby County v Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham v Bristol Rovers, Luton Town v Liverpool, Stoke City v Newcastle United.