Robson's chance to justify extravagance

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The Independent Online
One of the first steps towards finding value in any form of betting is to recognise a false favourite, and they do not get much more dubious than the market leaders for the Coca-Cola Cup, which reaches the third- round stage this week.

Manchester United and Newcastle are the clear favourites with all firms, but with both likely to be chasing European trophies as well as the Premiership when the Coca-Cola gets serious after Christmas, neither seems likely to give the minor Cup competition the application it requires. The same goes for Liverpool, top-priced at 6-1 with Hills.

Instead, punters should look for a talented, consistent team with no serious Premiership pretensions, for whom the Coca-Cola is the best, perhaps only, chance of winning a trophy and a place in Europe, not to mention a straightforward third-round tie. This reduces the list rapidly, since Aston Villa, who generally go well in this competition, face a difficult trip to Leeds next week, while Arsenal (at Stoke) and Chelsea (at Bolton) are others to avoid.

We are left with two obvious candidates at very fair odds, in Middlesbrough (9-1, Ladbrokes) and much-maligned Wimbledon (only 14-1 with Coral, but 25-1 with Hills). Bryan Robson's side badly need to win something this season to justify some extravagent midsummer signings, while the Dons rarely exit a knock-out competition without a struggle. Both should reach the fourth-round in a canter.

COCA-COLA CUP: Best odds: 5-1 Newcastle (H), 11-2 Man Utd (H), 6-1 Liverpool (H), 9-1 Arsenal (C), Middlesbrough (L), 12-1 Chelsea (T), 14-1 Tottenham (L), 16-1 Aston Villa (T), 20-1 Blackburn (L), 25-1 Leeds (H), Wimbledon (H), 33-1 Nottm Forest (C,T), West Ham (L), 40-1 Coventry (C,L), 50-1 Southampton (C,T), Sunderland (H,T), Leicester (C,H,L,T), 80-1 bar.

PREMIERSHIP: 13-8 Newcastle; 7-4 Manchester United; 5-2 Liverpool. Others: 20-1 Arsenal, 25-1 Chelsea, Aston Villa, 50-1 Everton, Spurs and Wimbledon.