Millwall v Wigan, today, 5.15pm, ESPN
ARGUABLY the worst prize in football awaits the winner of this weekend's first FA Cup semi-final.
No, I'm not talking about a return to Wembley to contest the oldest cup competition in the world against either Chelsea or Manchester City which is obviously a fantastic reward. I'm talking of course about qualification to the Europa League; in my opinion the worst competition in football.
Everything about the Europa League is wrong, Thursday night football, regular Sunday afternoon domestic football, the format, Champions League clubs entering at a later stage etc. It's awful.
Not that any of this will be entering the minds of anyone – barring the supporters – connected with the Latics or the Lions on Saturday afternoon.
Both sets of players will simply be concentrating on trying to reach a major Wembley cup final for the first time in their club's history and with it the chance to lift some silverware.
Of course, these two clubs have played in major cup finals before, staged at the Millennium Stadium however, and they did contest a Wembley cup final between each other in 1999, Wigan emerging 1-0 victors to lift the Football League Trophy.
As cup competitions progress it's inevitable that upsets become less likely and Andrew Atherley details here perfectly the task facing Millwall this weekend.
Since the Premier League era began, seven times a club from the top flight has faced a Championship side in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and the outcome after 90 minutes has been six wins and a draw for the “bigger” club. On this stat alone Wigan look to hold a great chance of winning the match at odds of 1.88.
Opta also highlight a significant stat counting against the Lions. Millwall have won just one of their last 13 clashes against top-flight opposition in the FA Cup, and that came against a bang out-of-form Aston Villa side earlier this season.
Current form also suggests Wigan hold the advantage. They are fighting for their lives in the Premier League, though three wins and a draw from their last five games has given them a chance to survive.
In the middle of that good league run Roberto Martinez's men went to Goodison Park and produced one of the performances of the season to beat Everton 3-0. They'll want to keep the momentum going here.
Kenny Jackett's Millwall lost at home to relegation-threatened Sheffield Wednesday in midweek meaning it's three Championship games without a win, and while this recent form can be attributed to having one eye on this game, it will take a huge performance to get the better of Wigan.
Millwall are 4.6 to win the game with the Draw at 3.9, but on current form, ability, and the stats it's impossible to select anything other than a Wigan win.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Cup semi-finals/finals tend to be tense affairs with the initial emphasis being on not losing rather than trying to win and I expect this encounter to be no different.
Millwall will line-up defensively-minded with four at the back, and Liam Trotter – if fit – anchoring the midfield. They'll aim to keep Wigan at bay and it will probably take a while for the Premier League outfit to find their stride and creat some chances.
Under 2.5 Goals is available to back at 1.9 and the way I expect the game to go I think that is worth a decent wager with a view to laying off later in the game if it starts to open up. Obviously an early goal will be a negative but I certainly don't envisage a high-scoring encounter.
I fancy a Wigan victory in a low-scoring game so would much rather have a wager in the First Goalscorer market as opposed to the To Score market as it could be that just one goal settles this tie.
Arouna Kone has been in terrific form of late with six goals in his last seven league and cup games and is a worthy favourite at 6.8 but at slightly bigger odds a chance is taken on Jordi Gomez (8.8). The Spaniard has started all five of Wigan's FA Cup games this season, scoring three goals, and looked really impressive against Everton in the last round.
Back Wigan to beat Millwall @ 1.88
Back Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.9
Note: Mr Fixit's FA Cup semi-finals tips are in today's Daily Record