The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy kicks off with the first round on Tuesday night, and offers lower league sides the very real prospect of qualifying for a Wembley final. Bristol City won the competition for a record third time last season, but they won’t be competing this time around after making the step up to the Championship. This competition is only open to teams in Leagues One and Two, and while the best sides in those divisions won’t necessarily want to be distracted from their league campaigns, a long cup run could be financially very rewarding if a club goes all the way.
We’ve picked out a couple of form sides from each division who can be backed at decent odds in Sheffield United and Portsmouth, and we’re also following Burton Albion – who did us a favour in the League Cup a few weeks ago – as they travel to Doncaster. First up it’s the Blades who face a short trip up the A1 to take on Hartlepool on the North East coast.
Hartlepool United v Sheffield United
Hartlepool have flirted with relegation from the football league consistently over recent years, and last season only survived by four points, finishing one position above the League Two relegation zone. It was a completely different story at the start of this season, when they won their first three games against Morecambe, York and Newport. They’ve been brought back down to earth a little in the last few weeks, suffering successive defeats to Stevenage and Carlisle in the league, with a 4-0 loss to Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup sandwiched in-between. Sheffield United have won on each of their last three visits here, including in this competition last October.
The Blades have also made a decent start to their campaign in League One, as they look for a return to the Championship. They went down to a surprise 4-0 defeat in the opening game to Gillingham, but have bounced back to win the last four games on the trot, against Chesterfield, Peterborough, Blackpool and Swindon. Billy Sharp got off the mark for the season on Saturday against Swindon, and his partnership with Connor Sammon is very good for that level. If either play on Tuesday evening they’ll fancy their chances of hitting the onion bag against a Hartlepool side who have conceded nine goals in their last three games.
Exeter v Portsmouth
Portsmouth are another side who’ve made a superb start to the season, and they are a standout price of +140 with Boylesports to win the south coast derby at Exeter on Tuesday night.
Pompey have won three of their first five games in League Two, and after the dramatic fall from grace there are signs that the club is starting to turn its fortunes around. They’re strongly fancied in some quarters to win the League Two title after a summer of good recruitment, and they won the first two against Dagenham & Redbridge and Plymouth. Two draws followed against Morecambe and Crawley, before they went to fellow promotion contenders, Luton, and won 2-1 with a late Matt Tubbs goal. They now sit 4th in the table ready to push on and challenge at the top.
Exeter were involved in an incredible game at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup last week, eventually going down 6-3 after a spirited fightback, and that sums up an inconsistent start to the campaign. They’ve beaten Dagenham & Redbridge and Yeovil, drawn with York, and lost to Wimbledon and Northampton. They’re already comfortably mid-table in 13th, and it would be a surprise if they don’t finish there or thereabouts come next May.
Portsmouth have drawn on their last two visits to this stadium, but have won 3 and drawn 3 of their last six away games overall; while Exeter have lost three of the last six at home.
Doncaster v Burton Albion
We tipped Burton Albion to cause an upset in the Capital One Cup by winning away at Bolton, and they did us a favour by returning as +400 winners. They can be followed again – this time away at Doncaster – although the draw makes most appeal in what will be a tight game.
Ladbrokes offer +240 on the stalemate, and Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink’s men are worth backing to go to extra-time at the Keepmoat stadium.
Burton won League Two last season, and have made a fine start to life in League One, winning four out of five matches. They lost to Barnsley, but have beaten Blackpool, Peterborough, Scunthorpe and Shrewsbury, and with the cup result at Bolton, it’s been an excellent start. It’s their away form which catches the eye most, and they’ve won 8 of the last 10 on the road, with just one draw and one defeat. They go to Doncaster (who are below them in the league) with nothing to lose and they certainly won’t be turned over easily.
Doncaster have had a tough time of things over the last few years, ranging from regular changes of manager to the signing of One Direction band members, and the fans will be hoping for a non-controversial season for once. The man in the hotseat at the moment is Paul Dickov, and he’s overseen a reasonable, if not spectacular start. Donny drew their first three matches, against Bury, Wigan and Southend, before going down 3-0 to Port Vale. They bounced back at the weekend with a 2-0 win at home over Fleetwood, but prior to that had drawn the previous four home games.
We have a side in Burton Albion who excel on their travels, but a side in Doncaster who are hard to beat at home. All signs point to a close encounter and the possibility of extra-time after finishing all square at 90 minutes.
Sheffield United to Beat Hartlepool United
Tuesday 1st September 19:00 GMT
Portsmouth to Beat Exeter
Tuesday 1st September 19:45 GMT
Doncaster to Draw with Burton Albion
Tuesday 1st September 19:45 GMT
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