Sports betting: Derby and West Ham give more value than `big' sides

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The Independent Online
When sizing up the form for a horse race, an animal which has shown a distinct reluctance to win on its most recent outing is unlikely to feature on your shortlist, or for that matter in the ante-post betting. The Coca-Cola Cup, however, seems to operate by different rules, and the bookies have no hesitation in placing Liverpool and Arsenal at the front of the market for the competition which reaches the fourth-round stage this week.

Until the removal of automatic entry to the Uefa Cup for its winner, the Coca-Cola was often a very attractive betting medium. The bookmakers would always install the biggest sides as favourites, but it was generally a team from the middle of the Premiership, fully aware that the competition was their best chance of getting into Europe, who would emerge victorious. The loss - for the moment at least - of the European ticket makes it more difficult to assess the commitment of the sides who remain, although on third-round form, no one in their right mind will stake a penny on Arsenal.

The Gunners did everything they could to lose against Birmingham but won in extra time. A similar lack of commitment against Coventry is likely to be punished more severely, and even at 13-2 (Super Soccer), they make no appeal.

Liverpool made a better fist of their third-round match, but again, with no place in Europe to play for, their ultimate will to win must be in doubt.

There are two very interesting possibilities: Derby, who face Newcastle at Pride Park, are an excellent bet at 10-1, as are West Ham. The Hammers will surely beat Walsall on Wednesday and, if they can get a another home draw, would be fancied to beat any of the remaining sides on the way to the semi-finals.

COCA-COLA CUP: Best odds: 7-2 Liverpool (L); 11-2 Chelsea (H, C); 13- 2 Arsenal (S); 8-1 Leeds (H), Newcastle (L); 10-1 Derby (H, C), West Ham (H, C); 20-1 Coventry (H); 25-1 Bolton (L, S), Southampton (H), Middlesbrough (S); 33-1 Ipswich (S); 40-1 Oxford (L, H, S); 100-1 Reading (L); 150-1 Grimsby (L, H), Walsall (H).

C Coral, H Hills, L Ladbrokes, S Super Soccer (the Tote and many independent bookmakers).