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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Mark Hughes determined to give Stoke a confidence boost

Best bets in the FA Cup and Sky Bet League

Stoke manager Mark Hughes
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Coventry v Stoke
FA Cup third round, 3pm Saturday
Several Premier League managers will be getting ready to deploy youngsters and fringe players on FA Cup third-round weekend but under-fire Stoke manager Mark Hughes won't be joining them when selecting a team to face Sky Bet League Two highflyers Coventry at the Ricoh Arena.

Hughes has promised to select a strong side and that should come as no great surprise because he is probably one bad result away from getting the sack.

Just getting through this week has been a tricky task for Hughes after Stoke were plunged into the drop zone by a 1-0 defeat at home to Newcastle on New Year's Day.

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The loss to the Magpies was Stoke's seventh defeat in ten Premier League games.

They are undoubtedly in a relegation battle but that doesn't mean they are not worth considering at odds-on this weekend.

Coventry are third in League Two and are playing with some confidence, but they are three divisions below Stoke and do not have the benefit of an exposed, small stadium to level the playing field.

Sky Blues manager Mark Robins is preparing to make changes because some of his players have struggled with their recent schedule and he cannot call on Haiti international attacker Duckens Nazon, who has returned to Wolves after a loan spell.

The pitch conditions at the Ricoh Arena aren't the best but Stoke's quality should shine through and they look decent-value favourites.

3pts 3-4 Hills

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Exeter v West Brom
FA Cup third round, 3pm Saturday
Another Premier League team in desperate need of a win to boost confidence are West Brom, who take on fourth-tier promotion chasers Exeter at St James Park.

The Baggies have gone 21 games without a victory and eight of those have been since the appointment of Alan Pardew in November.

Premier League survival is the priority but Pardew needs a victory to give his players some belief and the match against Exeter is a great opportunity.

Exeter have not been outside the top seven all season but they had a tough festive period, losing two games out of three, and played on a heavy pitch when defeating 2-1 at Newport on New Year's Day.

Tired legs could be a factor for both teams but West Brom have the bigger squad and their extra quality should see them through without need of a replay.

West Brom
3pts 3-4 Betfair

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Cardiff v Mansfield
FA Cup third round, 3pm Saturday
An evenly contested match is in store at the Cardiff City Stadium where League Two Mansfield are capable of causing problems for the home side.

Sky Bet Championship highflyers Cardiff are warm odds-on favourites to bounce back from a four-match losing sequence with a victory over a team two divisions below them.

But Bluebirds manager Neil Warnock is preparing to make some changes in an effort to protect his injury-ravaged squad from losing more key players.

On Friday morning he said: “The fittest lads are going to play but I just don't know who at the moment.”

Mansfield have also had a tough schedule but their manager, Steve Evans, is preparing to send out a strong team.

The Stags are sixth in League Two and have lost just one of their last 18 games. They look value to secure at least a replay.

Mansfield or draw double chance
2pts 6-4 Betfair

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Charlton v Oldham
Sky Bet League One, 3pm Saturday
Charlton are winless in six matches and on their worst run of the Sky Bet League One season but they can revive their flagging playoff hopes with a victory over Oldham at the Valley.

The Addicks are odds-against and look value to topple an Oldham team nine points and 11 places below them.

Oldham are also on a poor run with no wins in five games and are severely weakened because five loan players have returned to their parent clubs.

Goalkeepers Jack Ruddy and Ben Wilson (on loan from Manchester City and Cardiff) were used sparingly but striker Eoin Doyle, midfielder Jack Byrne and defender Kean Bryan (on loan from Preston, Wigan and Manchester City) were key players and will be sorely missed.

2pts 13-10 Hills

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Oldham are also on a poor run with no wins in five games and are severely weakened because five loan players have returned to their parent clubs
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