With a draw that has thrown up a potential FA Cup semi-final with Wigan Athletic rather than against the might of Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea, the stakes really are high when Blackburn Rovers and Millwall replay their quarter-final tie at Ewood Park tonight.
All of a sudden, the path to a domestic final at Wembley has opened up for both of these Championship outfits and the favourable draw will have both sets of fans dreaming of a glory that their respective league campaigns hardly suggested was on the cards this term.
Of course, Wigan will be delighted with the chance to face either of these two sides as well, but, whoever reaches the final, the draw guarantees an underdog will be facing one of the elite clubs in May.
Millwall were held to a 0-0 draw on Sunday by Blackburn in a scrappy 90 minutes that looked exactly like what it was – a match low on quality between two mid-table Championship teams who are both struggling for form. With chances at a premium and little in the way of free-flowing attacking football on display, it was hardly a great advert for the second tier but the recent records of both sides could have told you that before kick-off.
It was to be expected: that draw extended Blackburn’s winless run to six matches, while Millwall have won just two of the last nine: a far cry from when these teams were knocking out Arsenal and Aston Villa in this competition.
And with form like that, not to mention the extra incentive of an easier tie with erratic Wigan, I don’t expect a classic at Ewood and I think it is harder to call than the odds suggest, too. bwin make Blackburn the 21/20 favourites, but that leaves me cold given their form, while with just one win in eight away league trips, I’m not too keen on backing Millwall either, even at a more tempting 13/5.
The draw looks like the most tempting bet at 23/10, and that is the sensible play in the 3way market, as neither side really looks like winning a match at the minute but with both having problems at the sharp end of the pitch, my bet is going to be the 39/20 on under 1.5 goals.
I can’t back either side when they are struggling so badly to score. Millwall have scored just 44 goals in the Championship this season – only four teams have netted fewer – and have gone three games without scoring a goal, drawing five blanks in their last eight league matches.
This is problem is even more pertinent for Blackburn, whose manager Michael Appleton hasn’t got to grips with his third job of the season yet. Quite what Appleton has done to become such a wanted manager I’m not really sure – there is nothing in his record to suggest why – and the fact his team have failed to score in five of their last six, even with Jordan Rhodes up front, does little to change my opinion that he is lucky to have such a big job.
Rovers have also scored just 44 league goals, and though that is not all Appleton’s fault (Steve Kean and Henning Berg must take some blame as well) he hasn’t addressed the situation. So with neither team looking likely to score you can’t be backing either of them, and that leaves the 39/20 on under 1.5 goals the call.
These are two evenly matched teams, remember, and with just one place and one point separating them in the Championship table, I expect another tight contest and it could be that extra time and penalties are needed to settle the tie. As such, 27/4 for a second 0-0 draw in four days is also worth a stab.