This weekend's Premier League football is packed with tempting bets
West Ham and Tottenham look rock-solid odds-on shots against weak opponents
One of the best pieces of punting advice I was given (almost as good as “give up now, mate, you’re useless”) was that you should be patient and let the bad prices come to you.
In other words, keep looking at the odds and when the bookmakers’ assessment is significantly different to yours the price will jump off the page or screen and grab you.
I’m delighted to say that when it comes to this weekend’s Premier League figures the prices are leaping out like salmon, and my net is poised for a big catch.
It has been a struggle this season. Far too often an initial look at the coupon has offered little hope that it was going to be a successful weekend, but for some reason this week’s fayre all looks rather obvious, almost worryingly so.
There are only eight Premier League matches due to Manchester City facing Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final, and just one looks remotely tricky.
We start with two Friday fixtures, one moved forward at Sky’s request, the other because of a Six Nations game taking place the following day, and it is the Sky game that offers the best bet of the weekend.
If Chelsea were the worst odds-on shot of the season before their FA Cup defeat to Manchester United on Monday, West Ham are possibly the best. They can be backed at a shade under evens to beat Fulham at the London Stadium and that is an offer that cannot be refused.
Fulham have been pathetic this season. They have spent far more than most promoted sides but have performed like one of those relatively small but sensible clubs that come up and know if they start splashing out too freely they risk going straight back down and suffering severe consequences in years to come.
Their away form has been especially feeble with just two points collected from a possible 39 and there have been signs in recent matches that they do not seem particularly fussed about losing these days.
West Ham’s home form has been erratic, with a mere five wins from 13, but they have a number of injured players fit again, including potentially Manuel Lanzini, and I would be surprised, and indeed brought nearly to tears, if they don’t have far too much quality and potency to see off the Cottagers.
While that is happening Cardiff will be taking on Watford. Unsuccessfully. There is so much to admire about how Neil Warnock has led the Bluebirds to a position whereby safety looks far more likely than it did in August, but their fighting spirit may not be able to offset the quality gulf between them and the Hornets.
I shall take the safer draw no bet option because Cardiff are still scrapping like mad, but Watford are as physically tough as they come and should not head home empty-handed.
On to Saturday now, where Tottenham are an excellent 8-11 shot to see off Burnley at Turf Moor. I find it miraculous that Burnley sit so high in the table given their shortage of quality and Spurs, still frequently underrated by the market, should see them off without a lot of bother, especially with Harry Kane likely to figure.
Bournemouth dangle their chins in front of Wolves in one of only two 3pm kick-offs and the visitors should accept the invitation with glee. The time to back Wolves is when they are playing inferior sides who are willing or feel obliged to come at them, which is exactly what this match-up represents.
And while nobody will win an award for original thought by predicting Newcastle and Huddersfield will fail to score three or more between them, the 4-7 under 2.5 probably underestimates just how impotent these two sides are.
The 5.30 BT Sport game is the only one I’m struggling with.
Leicester and Crystal Palace are capable of beating the best – both stunned Manchester City in a four-day spell either side of Christmas that has reopened the title race – but they also have the power to disappoint their fans.
Palace have decent forward options at last and might be able to record a fourth straight win against the Foxes but this is the one ‘conclusion no bet’ job of the weekend for me.
I keep hearing how Ralph Hasenhuttl has revived Southampton since replacing Mark Hughes, but 15 points from 11 games is unspectacular and their relegation fight is highly unlikely to get any easier at Arsenal on Sunday, with the hosts a perfectly acceptable 1-2 to strengthen their chances of returning to the Champions League next season. It has gone almost unnoticed that they sit level on points with Chelsea and just one behind United.
And talking of United, they can put the cherry on top of the cake by avoiding defeat at home to Liverpool, a match for which they have shortened slightly after beating Chelsea on Monday but the move has not gone far enough.
I can see Liverpool finishing outside the top two despite having been so short to top the final table before their defeat to City last month, and resurgent United can put another dent in their title hopes. Offers of 5-4 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men with the safety net of the draw no bet are something to get stuck into.
Obviously the sensible thing to do is back all these good things in singles, but I’m going for glory this time with trebles and upwards.
As ever when a bet gets me excited I think of Kevin Pullein, my steadfastly sensible colleague, who says that if he thinks he sees a price that is wrong his immediate assumption is he must have overlooked something, causing him to start an exhaustive search to stand up his fears.
But in complete contrast to that wise soul, I shall march in with hopelessly naive optimism (and almost certainly regret it come Sunday evening), because it is a while since a set of Premier League prices looked this tempting.
Racecourses cannot afford to scrimp on security
In the days when the only people on the racecourse who had cameras were Edward Whitaker and a few other professional photographers, accounts of the occasional ruck were limited to a reporter's words.
These could be unsettling, particularly if they included a quote from someone who had been caught up in the fracas, but they did not have anything like the same impact as when trouble erupts these days.
It is almost guaranteed that someone will grab their phone and start videoing the trouble, as was the case at Haydock on Saturday, when images of a fairly intense punch-up were viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media.
The damage this does is considerable. I wish people who I know for reasons other than professional ones would get in touch about racing to comment on how impressive Cyrname was or to discuss the brilliance of Paul Nicholls.
But they don’t. They might tap me up for a Grand National tip once a year but otherwise the only time I hear from them is when something like the Haydock fight occurs.
The comments that were provoked by the fight show the extent to which people no longer go racing on Saturdays and big days because of the threat of bother.
Haydock chiefs are almost certainly right to say this was unheard of for a winter meeting but this is a wake-up call for that course and indeed all others who reap the financial rewards of big crowds enjoying a day on the booze.
They must get a grip on the obvious cocaine problem, and if they are going to let people tip lager down their throats all afternoon they have to ensure there is a visible security presence that makes the sort of vile characters who fancy a fight when they have exceeded their limit realise there will be consequences if they do kick off.
Barry Hearn says he would not try to tell racing how to operate because he lacks the specific knowledge of the industry.
But the racecourses should beg him for advice on how to manage security because he knows extremely well how to do that.
No sport has a closer relationship with heavy drinking than darts, but Hearn ensures his arrers events are largely attended by happy drunks rather than violent ones because he does not scrimp on security costs.
Racing needs to act immediately and decisively to ensure it is a long time before tweets featuring footage of racecourse fights next do the rounds.
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