Premier League Predictions 4 February 2012

Seven matches take place on Saturday 4 February with teams boosted by their deadline day arrivals. Arsenal and Manchester City will be keen to get back to winning ways with home fixtures against Blackburn Rovers and Fulham, while there is a relegation six pointer happening at Loftus Road when Queens Park Rangers take on Wolves.

Arsenal vs Blackburn Rovers

This could be a potential banana skin for Arsenal who are yet to win in 2012. However, a goalless draw at Bolton midweek stopped the rot to some degree and at the very least, prevented their first four-match losing streak under Arsene Wenger.

Even though Blackburn are a tough side to beat on their travels – they have only lost five of their last 15 on the road – Wenger will no doubt see this fixture as a means to get back to winning ways.

The Gunners have an excellent record against Rovers – prior to last season’s goalless draw, they had won seven successive home league matches.

Robin Van Persie has scored 10 goals in 12 matches against Blackburn and with Chris Samba not playing, Rovers defence is not as strong as it could be.

Verdict: Arsenal @ 1.3 (Betfred)

Norwich City vs Bolton Wanderers

The statistics suggest this will be a goalfest due to the dire defensive records of both teams. Norwich have kept one clean sheet this season while Bolton have managed just one match in their last 37 on the road where they haven’t conceded a goal.

The Canaries have struggled in front of goal in recent matches. While Chelsea and Spurs can be forgiven, Paul Lambert’s side could only muster a last minute goal against poor travellers Fulham.

Bolton have boosted their attacking options with Watford striker Marvin Sordell and managed to keep hold of Kevin Davies but I think the home side will edge this one.

Verdict: Norwich City @ 2.1 (Betfred)

Queens Park Rangers vs Wolves

There will be huge expectation on QPR to win this match despite struggling at the wrong end of the table themselves. Mark Hughes will be optimistic in that his side lead at Aston Villa 2-0 before drawing the game 2-2, but a leaky defence is a major cause for concern.

Even with the arrivals of Taye Taiwo and Nedum Onuoha, Rangers’ back line still looked shaky and Wolves will feel they can get something from this game. Steven Fletcher is in form and has scored in each of his last four on the road while the arrival of Sebastien Bassong from Spurs will bolster their defence.

But, let’s not pretend Wolves are something special. They are second from bottom for a reason and have won just once away from home. With new signing Djibril Cisse up front, Rangers for once look like they have a dangerous striker on their books.

Verdict: Queens Park Rangers @ 1.62 (Ladbrokes)

Stoke City vs Sunderland

In recent seasons this fixture would have been marked down as a home win but things are a little more complicated this term. Stoke have been relatively poor at the Britannia Stadium this season, winning just four of their 11 home matches.

Four draws and three defeats suggest they are tough to beat which is why I am not going to rave about Sunderland’s chances here, despite their remarkable turnaround in form since Martin O’Neill took over.

In 11 matches since O’Neill took over, the Black Cats have won seven, drawn two and lost two, but they could get a reality check against a physical Tony Pulis side.

Verdict: Draw @ 3.4 (Sky Bet)

West Bromwich Albion vs Swansea City

West Brom have tumbled down the table and Norwich City were correctly predicted to beat them at the Hawthorns last weekend. Just two home victories in 11, scoring eight goals in the process is the form of a team battling against the drop.

Much has been said about Swansea’s passing game and quite frankly, the comparisons with Barcelona are ridiculous. For a start, Barcelona win away from home, something that the Swans struggle to do.

One victory, three draws and seven defeats on the road is the reason Swansea are still not out of relegation danger but taking into consideration West Brom’s wretched home form, they cannot be backed with any confidence either. Bore draw, anyone?

Verdict: Draw @ 3.4 (Bet Victor)

Wigan Athletic vs Everton

I have tried to view Wigan positively in the last few weeks, giving credibility to their fighting spirit but the fact is, for all their bluster, they are a poor side.

Roberto Martinez’s side have been beaten six times at home already this season and face an Everton side full of confidence. The Toffees beat high-flying Manchester City midweek and have a good away record against the Premier League’s strugglers this season – beating West Brom, Bolton Wanderers, Fulham and Blackburn Rovers.

Manager David Moyes also has some depth in the squad following the arrivals of Steven Pienaar, Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson – scorer of the winning goal against Manchester City.

Verdict: Everton @ 2.2 (Boylesports)

Manchester City vs Fulham

January has been a poor month by City’s standards. Even though they won three of their five Premier League fixtures, two defeats at Sunderland and Everton mean their lead at the top of the table has been reduced to goal difference.

However, City are perfect at the Etihad – winning 11 out of 11, scoring 34 goals and conceding just six in the process. They will be expected to continue this sequence against Fulham, who are notoriously poor on the road. Just one win in 11 and scoring seven goals in the process does not bode well against a side abundant in attacking options.

City are boosted by the return of Vincent Kompany in defence and they have added to their midfield options with the loan arrival of David Pizarro. Fulham sold Bobby Zamora to QPR on deadline day but brought in striker Pavel Pogrebnyak from Stuttgart.

Verdict: Manchester City @ 1.3 (Paddy Power)

FA Cup Fourth Round Betting Preview 28 January 2012

The FA Cup fourth round is in full swing on Saturday 28 January and here are some insights into all 12 matches taking place including the titanic lunchtime kick-off at Anfield where Liverpool take on Manchester United!

Queens Park Rangers vs Chelsea

A potential powder keg awaits at Loftus Road which may explain the midday nature of the kick-off. It’s the first time both London sides meet since the race row between Chelsea’s John Terry and QPR’s Anton Ferdinand and it’s likely the focus will surround that rather than the action taking place on the pitch.

New QPR manager Mark Hughes got his first victory since taking charge when his side beat lowly Wigan Athletic last week and have a solid chance at home against stuttering Chelsea. The Blues were held to a goalless draw last week and were unconvincing in a 1-0 victory against Sunderland the week before.

This could turn out to be a bad tempered game and one which may need a replay.

Verdict: Draw @ 4.0 (Sky Bet)

Liverpool vs Manchester United

The second fixture dogged by racist abuse is also set for an early kick off on Saturday. This will be the first time both teams have played eachother since Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for abuse directed at Patric Evra during a 1-1 draw last October.

Liverpool were good value for their 2-2 draw against Manchester City midweek, a result which set up a Carling Cup final clash against Cardiff City (correctly predicted here and here). Kenny Dalglish’s team will not fear United and the FA Cup is a welcome distraction from their poor league form which sees a top four finish increasingly unlikely.

United demonstrated their quality when they beat Arsenal late on at the Emirates last weekend and while Sir Alex Ferguson would prefer this tie not to need a replay, there is a strong chance it will.

Verdict: Draw @ 3.3 (Bet Victor)

Blackpool vs Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday caused an upset in the third round when they defeated Championship high-fliers West Ham 1-0 at Hillsborough but they may find the visit to Blackpool a much tougher prospect.

Blackpool still have the on-form Matt Phillips, who has scored seven goals in his last six games for the Seasiders, including two hat-tricks, after the club rejected a bid from Cardiff City.

Ian Holloway’s team are unbeaten in their last six matches at Bloomfield Road and haven’t tasted defeat in their home turf since Nottingham Forest beat them 2-1 last October. Wednesday have won their last six out of seven league and cup matches on the road, but I feel they will come unstuck against Blackpool.

Verdict: Blackpool @ 1.91 (bet365)

Bolton Wanderers vs Swansea City

Bolton Wanderers are in real danger of relegation from the Premier League this season but proved they will not go down without a fight by beating Liverpool 3-1 last Saturday.

Swansea City are also doing their best to remain in the top flight but their results are as excellent as they are awful. At home, Brendan Rogers’ side are a match for anybody – as proven in their 3-2 victory against Arsenal. But, on the road, they are prone to defeat and have lost seven out of 11 against Premier League opposition this season.

Let’s not pretend Bolton are any great shakes at home either – the victory against Liverpool was only their second of the season. But with Swansea almost incapable of scoring goals away from the Liberty Stadium, the bet has to be Bolton.

Verdict: Bolton Wanderers @ 2.5 (Betfred)

Derby County vs Stoke City

After a bright start to the Championship season, Derby now find themselves in eleventh place but are just two points behind sixth placed Birmingham City. The Rams have won their last five league and cup fixtures at home, including beating West Ham United on New Years Eve and Carling Cup semi finalists Crystal Palace in the third round.

Stoke appear to be stuttering of late. Last weekend they lost 2-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion (as predicted here) and have won just once in their last six Premier League outings. It could be that Europa League involvement is taking it out of their relatively small squad.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis may want as high a finish as possible in the Premier League as a priority to FA Cup progress and with ground to make up on Liverpool in seventh, a few fringe players may be selected here.

Verdict: Derby County @ 3.5 (Betfred)

Hull City vs Crawley Town

Hull are progressing quietly and confidently under Nick Barmby this season and occupy fifth spot in the Championship table. The Tigers have won five of their last six league and cup fixtures at home, including a confident 3-1 dispatching of Ipswich Town in the third round.

League Two Crawley have been excellent value in the FA Cup this season. They are unbeaten in their last 10 league and cup fixtures on the road since they were thumped 6-0 by Morecambe last September. Steve Evans’ side defeated Championship outfit Bristol City in the last round and will be looking for another scalp here.

But, Hull are a different prospect to the Robins, who have hovered around the lower reaches of the Championship all season. Crawley will certainly not be underestimated but the team from the higher division will progress here.

Verdict: Hull City @ 1.91 (bet365)

Leicester City vs Swindon Town

Swindon Town caused arguably the shock of the third round when they beat Premier League strugglers Wigan Athletic. Just like Hull vs Crawley, this match pits a confident League Two outfit against a Championship side expected to beat them.

A few weeks ago, I would have given Paolo Di Canio’s side a much better chance of turning over City but this is not perhaps the best time to play against the Foxes. Things appear to be clicking into place under manager Nigel Pearson and in their last two matches, Leicester won at Southampton in the league and smashed local rivals Nottingham Forest 4-0 in a FA Cup third round replay.

Just like Crawley at Hull, Leicester will not underestimate the quality Swindon possess but with confidence high at the Walkers Stadium, I expect the Foxes to be in the draw for the fifth round.

Verdict: Leicester City @ 1.57 (Ladbrokes)

Southampton vs Millwall

After an incredible first half of the season, Southampton’s league form has been patchy. A 3-0 away victory against Nottingham Forest was sandwiched between defeats against Leicester City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Bristol City. Indeed, the Saints have lost two of their last three in front of their home supporters.

Millwall have spent most of the season near the bottom of the Championship and are in mixed form themselves. Their last two results have been positive – a 3-1 away win at Barnsley in the league and a 5-0 thumping of Dagenham & Redbridge in a third round replay but prior to that Kenny Jackett’s side lost four out of six in the Championship. Including a 6-0 mauling at the New Den by Birmingham City.

Neither side are in great recent form but with the Saints winning 11 out of 14 at home in the Championship this season and beating Millwall 1-0 at St Mary’s earlier in the campaign, I will side with Nigel Adkins’ team.

Verdict: Southampton @ 2.6 (Coral)

Sheffield United vs Birmingham City

Sheffield United have made excellent progress this season under Danny Wilson. After winning eight out of their last 10 League One fixtures, the Blades are up to third in the table, level on points with second placed Huddersfield Town. But, two of their last four in the league have ended in defeat – most recently last Saturday when table toppers Charlton Athletic beat them 1-0.

Birmingham have won their last four league and cup matches in a row and are unbeaten in their last eight in all competitions. After labouring through the first half of the season Chris Hughton’s side are climbing the table and are into the play-off positions.

United are solid at home, winning 10 out of 14 at Bramall Lane and losing just twice while Birmingham are shaky on their travels, losing seven out of 13 and winning just three times. This tie may need more than 90 minutes to settle it.

Verdict: Draw @ 3.4 (Sky Bet)

Stevenage vs Notts County

An all-League One fixtures pits play-off chasing Stevenage against mid-table Notts County and with a place in the last 16 at stake, neither side will take this match lightly. Stevenage, now under manager Gary Smith are solid, if not spectacular at home – winning six, drawing four and losing three.

That is better than County who are poor on the road, losing nine out of 14 in the league. Indeed, that is a record matched only by Tranmere Rovers in seventeenth and Rochdale and Chesterfield who prop up the table.

County inflicted a 2-0 defeat on Stevenage when the pair met in League One last September but Smith has cup victory experience – leading Colorado Rapids to MLS Cup glory in 2010 and I’m tipping the home side to exact their revenge.

Verdict: Stevenage @ 2.0 (Boylesports)

West Bromwich Albion vs Norwich City

Norwich City recorded a Premier League victory at the Hawthorns just a fortnight ago and it would not be a shock to see Paul Lambert’s side do the same again in the FA Cup.

Norwich are fresh from holding Chelsea to a goalless draw last weekend – their first clean sheet of the season and are riding high in ninth place in the Premier League. The Canaries are decent enough of their travels – winning three, drawing four and losing four in the league.

The Baggies earned a much needed victory at Stoke which kept some distance between the bottom three and themselves but it is their home form which is a huge concern. Two defeats, two draws and seven defeats does not inspire confidence and I choose Norwich to progress.

Verdict: Norwich City @ 4.0 (Ladbrokes)

Brighton & Hove Albion vs Newcastle United

Championship side Brighton needed extra time and penalties to see off the challenge of Conference promotion contenders Wrexham in the last round. But, strangely, they may have an easier time of it against Premier League side Newcastle United.

Despite leading at half-time against Fulham last weekend, Alan Pardew’s side were thumped 5-2 at Fulham and are unquestionably missing the likes of Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote who are on Africa Cup of Nations duty. While not terrible away from the Sports Direct Arena, the Magpies are vulnerable to defeat.

Brighton are solid enough at home, winning seven out of 13 and five of their last six, including a 3-0 victory against Southampton. Under Gus Poyet the Seagulls play good football and Craig Mackail-Smith is always a danger when fit.

Verdict: Brighton & Hove Albion @ 4.0 (Paddy Power)

Premier League Predictions 21 January 2012

Eight matches take place in the Premier League on Saturday 21 January, including a huge relegation six-pointer at Loftus Road where QPR host rock-bottom Wigan Athletic. Wolves face their second Midlands derby in a matter of days when they tackle Aston Villa while both Chelsea and Liverpool will be expected to record away victories at Norwich and Bolton respectively.

Norwich City vs Chelsea

After a difficult December, Chelsea look to be getting back on track and could take all three points at Carrow Road. January has seen the Blues win both Premier League matches against Wolves and Sunderland, while Portsmouth were spanked 4-0 in the FA Cup.

Norwich have also won all three fixtures in January, winning at both QPR and West Brom in the league and recording a 4-1 victory against Burnley in the FA Cup. Very similar results to Chelsea in fact.

The Canaries weakness is their defence and Paul Lambert’s side have not kept a clean sheet all season. Chelsea have also looked shaky at the back but that will be remedied by the £7 million arrival of defender Gary Cahill, who could make his debut on Saturday. Norwich will be up for this but Chelsea will edge it.

Verdict: Chelsea @ 1.62 (Paddy Power)

Everton vs Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn Rovers have hauled themselves out of the relegation zone after some decent form in recent weeks. Back-t0-back defeats against Newcastle and Stoke were sandwiched between a draw at Liverpool and victories against Manchester United and Fulham.

Steve Kean’s side were magnificent in their victory against Fulham last weekend. Wantaway defender Chris Samba didn’t play while top goalscorer Yakubu was sent off. Yet, Rovers still managed to fire in three goals and keep poor travellers Fulham to just one.

Everton are a team in mixed form. An unbeaten four-match run which produced two wins and two draws at the back end of December leading into the New Year was followed up by a dismal home defeat against rock-bottom Bolton. Blackburn are tough to beat on the road and a dour draw looks the call here.

Verdict: Draw @ 4.0 (Bet Victor)

Fulham vs Newcastle United

With Demba Ba, Cheick Tiote and now new signing Papiss Cisse all away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, Newcastle United are not such an exciting betting proposition. They laboured their way to a 1-0 home victory against struggling QPR last weekend and may find a trip to Craven Cottage a lot more difficult.

Fulham followed up a memorable home victory against Arsenal with a humiliating 3-1 defeat at Blackburn last week and Martin Jol’s team are difficult to predict. They are still six points from the relegation zone but a couple of bad results could see them slip closer to danger.

Fulham’s home record is the same as Newcastle’s away: four wins, three draws and three defeats. Neither sequence inspires confidence here with all three results just as likely. A draw may be the sensible option.

Verdict: Draw @ 3.5 (Betfred)

Queens Park Rangers vs Wigan Athletic

A real relegation six pointer and one I fancy Wigan will be up for more than their hosts. QPR were not convincing in their midweek FA Cup victory against League One side MK Dons and on another day could have lost. They also offered little in a 1-0 defeat at Newcastle last weekend.

Mark Hughes has his work cut out against rock-bottom Wigan who put up a fighting display against Manchester City on Monday night and were unlucky not to get anything out of the match. Roberto Martinez’s strugglers have won at West Brom and Sunderland this season and also held the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal to a draw.

It would be easy to pick a draw in this match but Wigan showed enough on Monday they will up for the fight on Saturday. QPR may turn their season around thanks to a glut of new signings but those reinforcements won’t arrive until after this weekend.

Verdict: Wigan @ 4.0 (Ladbrokes)

Stoke City vs West Bromwich Albion

West Brom are being dragged into the dogfight at the bottom of the table and their status as relegation candidates was compounded by a home defeat by Norwich last weekend. Roy Hodgson’s side are still five points clear of the bottom three but they need more to give themselves some breathing space.

With Stoke sitting in eighth position you may think this should be a routine home win. However, the Baggies may be dire at home, but away from the Hawthorns they are a much different proposition with four wins and two draws out of 10 matches.

West Brom have won two of their last three fixtures on the road, beating both Blackburn and Newcastle. While Stoke have a solid home record with four wins, four draws and just two defeats, consecutive stalemates against Aston Villa and Wigan suggest they could be in for a shock on Saturday.

Verdict: West Brom @ 4.33 (Paddy Power)

Sunderland vs Swansea City

After Swansea played Arsenal off the park for much of their 3-2 victory last Sunday, Sunderland should not pose too much of a problem. But, much of Swansea’s success this season is down to their inspired home form – five wins, five draws and just one defeat at the Liberty Stadium compared to just one win, three draws and six defeats away.

Sunderland are similar. Decent enough at home but prone to defeat on the road. Since Martin O’Neill took charge, the Black Cats have lost just twice in eight Premier League matches and were good value in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Chelsea by all accounts.

This will be a close match but given home advantage and Swansea’s poor away record, Sunderland will just edge this one.

Verdict: Sunderland @ 1.91 (bet365)

Wolves vs Aston Villa

This will be Wolves’ second Midlands derby in the space of a few days and another they may finish as the losing side. Mick McCarthy’s side were dumped out of the FA Cup after a home defeat by Championship side Birmingham City and face a difficult travelling outfit in Villa.

Alex McLeish’s side are heading into lower mid-table territory but have lost just two in 10 on the road this season. Admittedly, six have ended as draws with just two victories but it shows the battling spirit required for a local derby such as this.

Wolves rested Steve Fletcher midweek and the nine-goal striker will be raring to go. If Villa can keep him quiet then Wolves will struggle to score and may be able to nick a victory for themselves.

Verdict: Aston Villa @ 2.9 (Sky Bet)

Bolton Wanderers vs Liverpool

Liverpool have an excellent record against Bolton, winning the last 10 meetings home and away.  Bolton last tasted victory against the Reds in September 2006, when the late Gary Speed and Ivan Campo scored the goals in a 2-0 win.

Liverpool clearly like playing Bolton and it is difficult to oppose them on Saturday. Kenny Dalglish’s side may have dropped points at home to Stoke last weekend, but with league and Cup games coming thick and fast, you cannot be expected to win every match.

It’s not a great price for an away win given Liverpool’s hit-and-miss form on the road (five wins, one draw and four defeats) and while Bolton are in mixed form, they have lost eight out of 10 at home this season and could be beaten again on Saturday evening.

Verdict: Liverpool @ 1.67 (Coral)

FA Cup Third Round Replay Betting

Tuesday night sees a host of FA Cup third round replays with teams involved from the top five divisions in the English pyramid system. Generally speaking, FA Cup betting is a minefield so here we go hunting for rewards that are worth the risk.

Leicester City vs Nottingham Forest

There is no doubt about it, Leicester City have underachieved this season. For all their financial clout in the transfer market, they sit fifteenth in the Championship table and have dispensed of one manager this season. It is down to Nigel Pearson, now in his second spell in charge of the Foxes, to pick up the pieces.

Given their league position, it is not surprising the team are inconsistent at home with six wins, three draws but worryingly, five defeats. However, they are in much better shape than their Midlands rivals Forest, who find themselves in the relegation zone this season.

Forest have lost seven on the road this season, winning four times and drawing once. They have scored just 10 goals in this sequence too. But, Forest’s last away trip saw them beat Ipswich 3-1 in the league and given the local derby element of this encounter, Steve Cotterill’s side could snatch an unlikely victory at a big price.

Verdict: Nottingham Forest @ 5.4 (Bet Victor)

Millwall vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Dagenham did their supporters proud when they held Millwall to a goalless draw at Victoria Road but they face a tall order to beat the Lions on their home turf.

Millwall sit just one place and two points above the relegation zone in the Championship and even though they are struggling this season, that’s still a full two divisions above their opponents. The Daggers are not in great shape themselves and are in danger of dropping out of the Football League this season. Only goal difference is keeping them above both Northampton Town and Plymouth Argyle at the bottom of League Two.

Kenny Jackett’s team are in wretched form and were thumped 6-0 at home by Birmingham on the weekend. That said, their home form isn’t that bad with five wins, five draws and just two defeats compared to Dagenham who have lost seven out of 11 on the road. Class should prevail in this one.

Verdict: Millwall @ 1.44 (Boylesports)

Wrexham vs Brighton & Hove Albion

Conference leaders Wrexham arguably got the result of the round when they held Championship side Brighton to a goalless draw at the AMEX Stadium. Despite playing three divisions below Brighton, Andy Morrell’s side could cause an upset on Tuesday night.

Wrexham are in excellent home form, winning 10 of their 14 league matches at home this season and losing just twice. In addition to this, they have scored 26 goals and conceded just nine. They are very tough to beat at the Racecourse Ground.

Putting the obvious gulf in class aside, Brighton have not been great on their travels this season. Gus Poyet’s side have lost seven out of 13 and scored just eight goals. The bookmaker’s smell an upset in this one too hence a best price shorter than 3.0 on a side not even in the Football League.

Verdict: Wrexham @ 2.9 (Ladbrokes)

Bolton Wanderers vs Macclesfield Town

League Two side Macclesfield put in a tremendous performance against Premier League Bolton when they met the first time in the third round. Gary Simpson’s side came from a goal behind to lead their top flight opponents 2-1 with 13 minutes to go before David Wheater equalised to spare the blushes.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be an upset this time around. Macclesfield have not won a league match on the road since beating Crewe last October and eight defeats in 11 away fixtures does not inspire confidence.

Bolton are not without their own problems. Owen Coyle’s side have tasted victory at home just once in 10 Premier League matches and lost eight in front of their own fans. This could be a frustrating evening for Wanderers but I expect them to take their place in the fourth round.

Verdict: Bolton @ 1.29 (Coral)

Queens Park Rangers vs MK Dons

The new manager in charge at QPR, Mark Hughes, has his work cut out to ensure the club do not slip back into the Championship at the first attempt. His new side suffered a 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United on Sunday and face confident opposition in MK Dons.

The Dons have won seven in 12 on the road this season and scored 24 goals – the same as League One leaders Charlton Athletic. Currently sitting in fifth place in the league, they won’t be phased by the visit to Loftus Road and could pull off a shock on Tuesday night.

Hughes’ priority is undoubtedly keeping Rangers in the Premier League and he may use this fixture to take a look at some fringe players in his squad. QPR have won just once at home this season and have scored just nine goals in 10 matches – there is no value in backing them at odds-on.

Verdict: MK Dons @ 4.5 (Bet Victor)

Premier League Predictions 15 January 2012

Two intriguing matches take place in the Premier League on Sunday 15 January. Mark Hughes takes charge of his first match as manager of QPR who visit Newcastle United while two of the division’s great entertainers, Swansea City and Arsenal meet at the Liberty Stadium.

Newcastle United vs Queens Park Rangers

After a storming start to the season, Newcastle are starting to falter a little. They may have beaten Manchester United 3-0 in their last Premier League match but in their last 10 league matches, five have ended in defeat.

Alan Pardew’s side sit comfortably in seventh place but are without midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote and 15-goal Demba Ba who are both on duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. Losing two such influential players is a massive blow and it will be interesting to see how the Magpies cope in their absence.

As the old saying goes, one man’s loss is another man’s gain and new QPR boss Mark Hughes will look to capitalise on Newcastle’s weaknesses in his first match in charge.

Hughes, without a club since walking out on Fulham last summer, is an intriguing appointment. He left Craven Cottage because he felt the board lacked ambition and as a manager he wants to win trophies and compete at the highest level. In that case and with all due respect, what is he doing at QPR?

Realistically, the best they can hope to emulate is that of the likes of Stoke, or opponents Newcastle. Challenge for a top 10 finish and perhaps sneak into the Europa League. Hughes is living in a fantasy land if he believes he is in charge of a club destined for Champions League glory.

But, first there are more pressing matters at hand, like avoiding relegation to the Championship. QPR are without a win in their last eight games, registering two draws and six defeats – just two points from the last 24 available. Relegation form that needs to be turned around quickly. They have not won away from home since the 19 November when they beat Stoke City 3-2.

They don’t score many goals either – 20 all season in fact. Hughes will be concerned about the over reliance on Heidur Helguson who has score eight of those goals and a new striker will probably arrive during the transfer window.

Ironically, Hughes may have to adopt the tactics that ultimately cost him his job at Manchester City – view not getting beat as a good result. He may not be able to perform miracles on his first game in charge but a point at the Sports Direct Arena would be a good start.

Verdict: Draw @ 3.75 (Coral)

Swansea City vs Arsenal

The second televised match of the day pits two of the best footballing sides in the division against each other. Premier League new boys Swansea, who have built a reputation of a fast-paced, entertaining passing game against the grand masters of such a style of play in Arsenal.

The Gunners could give Thierry Henry his second Premier League debut. The 34-year-old striker is on loan from New York Red Bulls and scored the winning goal against Leeds United in the FA Cup on Monday after coming on as a late substitute.

Swansea have lost just once at home this season – to Manchester United – and the visit of Arsenal, the Premier League’s top goalscorer Robin Van Persie with 17 and returning legend Henry won’t phase them. The Swans narrowly lost 1-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in September when Andrei Arshavin scored the winner five minutes before half time.

Their defensive form at home is as good as table toppers Manchester City, with just four goals conceded but with a return of 12 goals in 10 matches, a quality-packed side like Arsenal will fancy their chances of nicking a result. Indeed, only Manchester City have scored more goals on the road than the 20 the Gunners have managed this season.

Swansea will undoubtedly give Arsenal a game at the Liberty Stadium and the football played by both sides is sure to be entertaining. But, I think Arsene Wenger’s side will return to London with all three points.

Verdict: Arsenal @ 1.83 (Bet Victor)