Final's draw card brings extra value

SPORTS BETTING

Bookmakers were never likely to offer significantly different opinions on what is one of the tightest FA Cup finals in memory, but the unanimity of the major firms is still startling. Hills offer 13-8 each of two to win in 90 minutes, with the draw at 15-8. So do Coral, while Ladbrokes differ only in their draw odds of 9-5.

For those not blinded by their loyalties, there can be but one option. Over the last 15 years, 10 FA Cup finals have finished level at 90 minutes, and not one of those was as close on paper as Saturday's match between Manchester United and Liverpool.

A draw is, statistically at least, an odds-on chance, rather than the outsider of three which the bookies suggest, yet some independents will lay 9-4 against - Bowmans, who take Switch and Delta bets on 01702 612 218, for instance. The reason, of course, is that punters are creatures of habit, and prefer to back and cheer for one side or the other. As a result, the draw often represents serious value in big matches, and even at 15-8 this is a chance not to be missed.

Only Ladbrokes have so far compiled their first-scorer odds, with the most interesting point being the absence of one A Cole. The firm base their prices on expected starting line-ups, and anticipate that Cole's initial role will be as pounds 7m-worth of bench insulation.

First-scorer betting is where the bookies make up for the narrow margins on match odds, and is not something which value-seekers take seriously. On a strictly minimum-stake basis, however, Denis Irwin, who often supports the attack and can strike a mean free-kick, is the suggestion at 40-1.

FA CUP FINAL: Hills/Coral: 13-8 Liverpool, 13-8 Man Utd, 15-8 draw. Outright: all major firms 5-6 each of two. First scorer (Ladbrokes): 9-2 Fowler, 5-1 Cantona, 6-1 Collymore, 8-1 Scholes, 10-1 Giggs, 12-1 McManaman, 16-1 Beckham, Keane, 20-1 Redknapp, 25-1 Barnes, 28-1 Butt, 40-1 Bruce, Irwin, McAteer, 50-1 Jones, Pallister, Scales, Wright, 100-1 Babb, P Neville.

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