Premier League sides should beware of cup banana skins
Brighton set to give under-par Arsenal a run for their money, while Everton face a task at Bolton
The draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup was not too kind to the Premier League teams in terms of giving them easy home ties and a handful of upsets this weekend would not be a surprise.
Manchester United are the only "big six" team from the Premier League with a home tie and, while that is somewhat offset by the fact that they face fellow top-flight side Fulham, they should progress with little fuss. United have won their last 10 home meetings with Fulham, including this season's league game 3-2.
United have been prone to the odd slip-up at home in the FA Cup - including defeat by Leeds (then of League One) and a draw against non-league Exeter in the past decade - but they have won 16 of their last 21 home ties.
In contrast to United, Manchester City were hit by the double whammy of an away tie against a Premier League side - and it's against Stoke, one of their least favourite opponents. City have not won at the Britannia stadium in six attempts since Stoke joined the Premier League in 2008 and that includes a fifth-round replay defeat after extra-time in 2010.
That replay was 1-1 after 90 minutes - and remarkably that has been the score in the last five matches between the sides at the Britannia (the first meeting after Stoke's promotion was a 1-0 home win).
Recent history suggests tonight's match will be close and hard-fought. Another draw would be no surprise and nor would under 2.5 goals (all six meetings at the Britannia have had two goals or fewer).
City look a distinct risk at odds-on and preference is for Stoke on the handicap.
Arsenal - the only "big six" team knocked out last season by a side from outside that group - are in danger of suffering the same fate at Brighton, who took Newcastle's scalp in the third round. The odds say Brighton are the best chance of a lower-league side knocking out a Premier League team over this weekend - only Millwall, against Aston Villa last night, were shorter odds.
Brighton have developed into an impressive passing side under Gus Poyet and the Falmer stadium is a formidable venue, where they have lost only seven Championship games out of 37 since their new home was opened for the 2011-12 season.
The potential exists for an upset because Arsenal are not as reliable as they once were on the road, with just four wins in 12 away games in the Premier League this season, and the memory of their Capital One Cup exit at Bradford is fresh in the memory.
But there is a significant negative against Brighton as they have been weak against the top six in the Championship, losing five out of seven overall (including two out of three at home). The class gap is not impossible for Poyet's side to bridge and a handicap bet is tempting, but they will have to play at their very best to match Arsenal. Under 2.5 goals may be the best bet.
Tottenham are a better away side than Arsenal and should get the better of Leeds, who were blown away by Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, while Chelsea and Liverpool would have to underperform significantly to fail against League One opponents Brentford and Oldham.
Everton might have more difficulty at Bolton, who have progressed well in the three months since Dougie Freedman took charge. Bolton have lost just four out of 17 in all competitions under Freedman and they knocked out Sunderland in the third round with a 2-0 away win in the replay after a 1-1 home draw.
Freedman had a notable League Cup win at Old Trafford with his former club Crystal Palace and clearly takes cup competitions seriously.
Everton are one of the most solid Premier League teams, but they can be frustrating in failing to turn superiority into wins on the road (they have won only two out of seven away to bottom-seven teams in the Premier League).
A draw at Bolton would not be a surprise and this could be low-scoring, as the main factor in Bolton's improvement under Freedman has been in their defence.
There are better bets than Everton at similar odds. The first is Hull against Barnsley, who are the fourth-worst away side in the Championship. Much-improved QPR also look good at home to MK Dons and red-hot Leicester appeal at Huddersfield, whose form is heading in the opposite direction.
Hull, Leicester, QPR, Notts County, Malaga, Hannover, Hamburg.
TODAY (11pm unless stated): Stoke City v Manchester City (8.45pm); Norwich City v Luton Town; Macclesfield Town v Wigan Athletic; Derby County v Blackburn Rovers; Hull City v Barnsley; Middlesbrough v Aldershot Town; Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal; Reading v Sheffield United; Huddersfield Town v Leicester City; Queens Park Rangers v Milton Keynes Dons; Bolton Wanderers v Everton; Manchester United v Fulham (1.30am Sun).
TOMORROW: Brentford v Chelsea (8pm); Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur (10pm); Oldham Athletic v Liverpool (midnight).
1 Hull home win Good chance to end sticky patch against poor travellers
2 Leicester away win High scorers can make it six wins on the trot
3 QPR home win Harry Redknapp seems keen on a cup run to spark form
4 Notts County on handicap Remarkably still unbeaten on the road
5 Hamburg home win Good value in the north German derby