FA Cup final win for Manchester City against Wigan Athletic looks safe bet
Low-scoring wins to nil offer best chances of returns, goalless or with one-goal lead at HT
The first rule of the FA Cup final is that the favourite wins, especially if that team are from the Premier League's big six and are playing an opponent from outside that group.
That is exactly the scenario tonight when Manchester City - now firmly established as a leading member of the big six - face Wigan, who might not be a Premier League club for much longer. Form and the statistics of past finals point to victory for City, although with the caveat that it might not come easy.
The weight of history is against Wigan. Since the last old-fashioned giant-killing (second division West Ham beating Arsenal from the first in 1980), the higher-placed team in the league structure has lifted the trophy 24 times out of 32 (75 per cent), although in 90 minutes, the draw rate has been high at 38 per cent (the statistics for higher-placed teams are won 17, drawn 12, lost three).
In the Premier League era, the higher-placed team has done even better, taking the trophy in 16 out of 20 finals, with a 90-minute record of won 14, drawn four, lost two.
The last time the cup was snatched away from a big-six team in the final was in 1995, when Everton beat Manchester United 1-0. Since then, big-six sides have won 10 finals against teams from outside that group - including City's 1-0 victory over Stoke two years ago.
Nine of those 10 wins have come in 90-minute play - the exception being the 2006 thriller that ended 3-3 before Liverpool beat West Ham on penalties. That was very much an exceptional final - the highest-scoring in 90-minute play since the famous Stanley Matthews final of 1953 - and the general trend is for low-scoring finals, often won to nil.
Of the last 10 finals won by a big-six team against a lesser side, eight have been won to nil and seven had under 2.5 goals. Those figures point to a 1-0 or 2-0 win for City as the most likely outcome, as does Roberto Mancini's record against Wigan - he has won all seven meetings with Roberto Martinez's Wigan since he took charge at City and all seven wins have been to nil (five of them 1-0 or 2-0).
The issue for backers is where to put their money beyond the obvious of Manchester City to lift the trophy at 1.12 and to win in 90 minutes at 1.27.
Under 2.5 goals is a clear option at 2.20, and the correct scores to consider are 1-0 and 2-0 to City. Backing Mancini's side on the handicap is more problematic, as the margins tend to be tight in finals.
The last time a final was won by more than one goal was the Premier League-versus-Championship mismatch of 2004, when Manchester United beat Millwall 3-0. The last all-Premier League final with a margin bigger than one was Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Chelsea in 2002.
It is also worth remembering that Wigan kept this season's league matches tight for a long time. City did not break through until the 69th minute when they won 2-0 at Wigan in November, and had to wait until the 83rd minute before Carlos Tevez scored the only goal of the return match just over three weeks ago.
On that basis, a draw on the First-Half HAD looks a decent bet, and so does D-H on the HaFu - a half-time draw with a City full-time win. A 0-0 half-time score is also attractive at the odds - that has been the score at the break in nine of the past 20 finals. Nine others have been 1-0 at half-time, which is the other main option.
Elsewhere, Chelsea and Tottenham look good bets in the Premier League as they continue their chases for Champions League places.
Chelsea are finishing the season strongly - with six wins and no defeats in their last eight games in all competitions - and look capable of beating Villa, who lost 8-0 at Stamford Bridge in December and have lost nine of their 11 matches against big-six teams.
Tottenham's need for a win will encourage them to push forward at Stoke, who have lost 10 out of 13 when conceding in the Premier League this year.
Sunderland, whose only defeat in four games under Paolo Di Canio was away to in-form Villa, are the handicap pick at home to Southampton, who have failed to score in their last three matches.
Chelsea, Tottenham, Sunderland, Dortmund, Deportivo, Betis.