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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 March, 2010, 12:00am
 

Expect goals all the way in this weekend's FA Cup quarter-finals. That's the best bet as the eight teams left in the competition set their sights on a May final at Wembley.

FA Cup favourites Chelsea are in action tomorrow when they host Stoke - a match that in the Premier League would be expected to produce at least three goals, with Chelsea having had 11 out of 14 over 2.5 goals this season at Stamford Bridge.

In the Premier League, Portsmouth v Birmingham and Fulham v Tottenham - tonight's two ties - would have the look of tight, possibly dour encounters, but the cut and thrust of a knockout cup tie might change the dynamic and over 2.5 goals appears to offer some value in both games.

And the fourth quarter-final, in which Championship side Reading host beaten Carling Cup finalists Aston Villa, might produce goals too. All four of Villa's FA Cup matches this season have had more than 2.5 goals (the average is 4.25 goals per game) and they have a good scoring record on the road.

Chelsea are difficult to oppose against Stoke, even though the concerns over their recent form heightened with last weekend's home defeat by Manchester City. They have won only 50 per cent of their league matches since the 3-0 win at Arsenal in late November - a win rate that will not sustain their title challenge to the end.

Stoke, though, are nowhere near as dangerous as Manchester City, even though they knocked out Roberto Mancini's team to reach the quarter-finals. Their limitations are usually exposed away from home, where they have lost six out of nine against top-six sides since joining the Premier League.

Several of those defeats were close, on paper at least, but Stoke lack a goal threat when they can't press high enough up the pitch to bring their dangerous throw-ins and set pieces into play, and Chelsea should win by at least two goals.

Fulham against Tottenham is the closest match, with the two teams separated by five places and 11 points. Fulham rank seventh on home form in the league and must fancy their chances of victory over their London rivals, whose away record has some weak points.

Tottenham's five away wins in the Premier League were all against teams in the bottom nine and they have won just twice on the road in the past 41/2 months. They are tough to beat, however, with only four away defeats this season - three of them against fellow top-six sides Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

The most recent away defeat for Tottenham was 1-0 at Wolves early last month, which was the clearest sign of their recent problems on the road, but in general they have become more resilient travellers under Harry Redknapp and they fought out a goalless draw at Fulham on their league visit to Craven Cottage at Christmas.

Fulham's most eye-catching results at home have been the victories over Manchester United and Liverpool, along with the 2-1 win over Uefa Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk that led to further progress in their Europa League campaign, but against teams above them in the league their home record shows they are more likely not to win.

Jermain Defoe is the key man for Tottenham, having started in all five wins on the road and scored in four of them, and he could make the difference. He has scored all four goals for Tottenham in their away FA Cup ties at Leeds and Bolton, and Tottenham are unbeaten on the road when he has scored.

On that basis, Tottenham look reasonable value on the handicap and that rates the best match bet on this weekend's FA Cup ties.

Villa are the toughest Premier League team to beat on the road - with just three away defeats this season, the lowest in the league - and that will make it difficult for Reading to continue their cup run, which has seen them knock out Liverpool and Burnley of the Premier League and Championship high-fliers West Bromwich.

Reading will have to raise their game again to come out on top against Villa, who will be keen to reach Wembley again after the defeat by Manchester United last Sunday. Villa being odds-on is fair enough, but there is a risk attached. They have scored in 10 of their 12 away games in the Premier League, winning five of those games, but they are prone to giving opponents a chance, as they did when conceding twice at Championship side Crystal Palace in the fifth round.

Portsmouth against Birmingham is difficult to weigh up, with both teams continuing to surprise in their own way. Portsmouth's players shrugged off the worries of administration with a 2-1 win at Burnley last weekend and they have been competitive all season, losing only nine of their 27 league games by more than a single goal.

There is enough quality in the Portsmouth squad to suggest that their league position owes much to the off-field turmoil at the club, and they must have a chance against low-scoring Birmingham. The biggest difference between the two sides is that Birmingham have the knack of winning close games, while Portsmouth lose more often than not, and Birmingham's form shows no real sign of fading, with just three defeats in their last 22 games in league and cup.

Net gains

Goals scored by Arsenal in seven home games against bottom-half teams: 25

Home comforts

Of Chelsea's 16 home wins, this many have been by two goals or more: 11

Happy travellers

Defeat in their last nine away games for Aston Villa: 1

Shortlist: Bochum, Leicester, Carlisle, Deportivo, Dortmund, Napoli, Xerez, Mallorca.

Top five tips

1 Leicester away win

In form and only one defeat in 13 away to teams below them

2 Carlisle away win

Good scoring record and opponents Wycombe usually lose when they concede

3 Deportivo home win

Six wins out of eight at home against teams below them in the table

4 Dortmund home win

Brilliant record against bottom-half teams, with nine wins out of 11

5 Napoli on handicap

Only one defeat in 13 against teams from the bottom half

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