Swindon v Manchester City
FA Cup Third Round
Live on ITV1
Analysts make much of Manchester City’s ability to compete for multiple trophies better than anyone else. This is, their advocates say, because their understudies in the cups against lower division teams are closest to the quality of their best Premier League team.
Pep Guardiola‘s squad didn’t get much chance to test that theory in the EFL Cup, losing to West Ham on penalties in their second match after defeating Wycombe 6-1 (with some household names scoring goals).
Quality allows the manager to rotate his players in Premier League games he thinks he can win without over-using the super stars. Swindon boss Ben Garner has little such luxury.
However, he will take heart from Cheltenham, who hosted City, who last won the FA Cup in 2019, in the fourth round last season, scoring first before the visitors netted three in the final 10 minutes to win 3-1. Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez scored. All are first team regulars. We’re more than likely to see Zack Steffen, who rarely starts for the Premier League leaders, in goal, however.
Any chance of Swindon ‘parking the bus’?
Did ITV think there could be an FA Cup upset here? Or did they just want to show Manchester City’s biggest-name stars through their channel? Even on that, they could be disappointed.
Swindon, say Opta, last reached the FA Cup fourth round in 2011-12, while City, the favourites in the FA Cup winners’ market at 4.216/5, have won their last seven ties against fourth tier opposition, going back to 1984.
This season, the visitors have six straight wins and 14 in their last 15 matches. Swindon beat Northampton on New Year’s Day for a first win in five, bucking home form that has not been fantastic.
City will be wary of the draw, after West Ham beat them on penalties in the League Cup and knowing that third round replays are scrapped because of Covid-induced fixture congestion.
Even so, the 90-minute match odds market price for a draw is 15.014/1. City to win is unbackably short at 1.11/10. Mind you, a 10% return is better than current interest rates at the bank!
Swindon’s odds of 40.039/1 are unsurprising. They might have shown their League One potential by winning at Crewe in the first round, but any team from the third or fourth tier defeating mega rich and talented City would rank bigger than any shock that comes to mind: then non-league Sutton United beating Coventry in 1989, or Wrexham defeating Arsenal in 1992.
Swindon, relegated back to League Two in May, had nine registered players in the summer when Garner took charge against a backdrop of ownership wrangles and a transfer embargo for anything requiring a fee. Now they are promotion hopefuls. They prepared in excellent fashion last weekend by defeating Northampton 5-2.
Look beyond that headline, though, and the Robins were 2-1 behind early in the second half. Keepers Jojo Wollacott (20 games) and Lewis Ward (2 games) have presided over just four clean sheets in League Two this season, three of them goalless – which ought to be the hosts’ best hope. Ward will start because Wollacott is away with Ghana on African Cup of Nations duty.
For all the guidance of Welsh international Jonny Williams in midfield, and Ben Gladwin’s attacking instincts, Swindon will do well to hold City’s highly-trained squad at bay for too long.
It seems unlikely that Swindon would be able to “park the bus” for a goalless draw, go to penalties and “progress”, available on Sportsbook at 14-1. Garner will think that, given a sliver of an opportunity, Harry McKirdy (9 league goals), Tyreece Simpson (8 plus two in the FA Cup), or even midfielder Jack Payne (8) might convert a scoring chance.
Back goals from both teams
With over 3.5 goals still under evens at 1.748/11, those hoping to find the margin of victory might hope that the visitors can go one better than they did at Cheltenham last season and notch up a 4-1 win. That means over 4.5 goals @ 2.77/4. Even if it feels like pushing the boat out to stretch to five goals, the ‘both teams to score’ “yes” price is a tempting 2.47/5.
Sportsbook offers 9-1 on the game finishing 1-4.
Jack could be a Payne and score
Cheltenham scoring last year sets a benchmark for Swindon to follow. The hosts are one of League Two’s highest scoring teams, bolstered by a great away record. If they can score, perhaps midfielder Payne could reward backers at 13-2 on Sportsbook to score at any time. He does take penalties and has scored six times as Swindon’s first scorer. McKirdy and Simpson are both 14-1 to score first and 5-1 to score at any time.
City midfielder Cole Palmer does have a League Cup and a Champions League goal on his scorecard this season – both as a substitute. He also started against West Ham. He’s 9-2 on Sportsbook to score first. It’s hard to know which of Gabriel Jesus or Raheem Sterling will start, with Riyad Mahrez at the African Cup of Nations. Either are 7-2 to score first. Guardiola would love Sam Edozie – priced 13-2 – to be fit enough to try out again on the wing.