Rochdale and Spurs meet for the first time in competitive action this weekend, and Alan Dudman previews Sunday's FA Cup fifth round clash between the pair...
"It's possibly my best angle of attack, as Newport put up stern resistance in the previous round and were certainly far from disgraced in the 2-0 defeat at Wembley."
Rochdale v Tottenham Hotspur
Sunday, 16:00 GMT
Live on BBC One
No pitch problems at Spotland
The build-up to this FA Cup fifth round tie has centred around the surface at the Crown Oil Arena (or in old money Spotland). For the Spurs' fans that missed Rochdale's 1-0 home victory against Millwall in the fourth round replay, you might just have seen more sand than turf. Indeed, Lions' striker Steve Morison went as far as to say it was the worst surface he had ever played on.
However, the game-changer has gone. Dale took the step to spend £500,000 on a newly re-laid pitch. The surface apparently resembles a "snooker table" according to chairman Chris Dunphy, so the visitors will have no problems on the fresh grass.
Manager Keith Hill is a straight-talking chap who celebrated 500 league games as a boss last November. Hill's team however languish at the foot of League One with just 25 points and he described Blackburn recently as the "Kings Of Savile Row". One wonders what sort of lofty title he'll bestow on Sunday's opponents.
History is not exactly favouring the hosts here, as they have lost their last six FA Cup ties against top-flight opposition since beating Coventry in 1971.
Will Spurs be able without Kane?
With metronomic ease, Harry Kane has hit 33 goals this term, with five in his last seven FA Cup matches. For those banking on the forward to once again do the business, it will be a case of wait and see. A twisted ankle picked up against Juventus in Tuesday night's superb comeback in Turin has cast a doubt on him starting or even featuring. As ever with these sorts of matches - you are trying to second guess with the team news.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino has given the competition respect, though, and he has subsequently apologised for criticising the previous sandy pitch at Rochdale without having seen the surface first-hand. There's no doubt he'll be happier with the re-laid one, although I admired Dele Alli's fighting talk by saying: "We're not soft, a lot of us grew up on worse pitches than that." Bravo.
And for those who played on mud in our younger years, we all know what Alli means.
The north Londoners have progressed from 16 of their last 17 FA Cup ties against lower league opponents, and they haven't lost to a side in the third tier or lower in the FA Cup since 1988.
With Rochdale trading at [18.0] to win this match, they are virtually the same price that Newport were at home last month - and Spurs got themselves out of a hole thanks to a late equaliser from Kane in the 1-1 at Rodney Parade.
The hosts will have to try and replicate what the Exiles did over the two games; basically hassle and press. Newport had just 29% and 26% of the ball in the two matches with Tottenham, and I doubt if Keith Hill will expect anything different. AFC Wimbledon had even less with 19% against the Lilywhites in the third round fixture.
A home record of just four victories this term is fairly miserable for Dale; whilst a recent tally of just three victories in ten in terms of form hardly brightens the mood. On the plus side, Rochdale have enjoyed their Cup exploits this season with victories against Millwall, Doncaster, Slough and Bromley.
The hosts will be without cup-tied quartet Scott Wiseman, Alex Dobre, Billy Knott and Sam Hart.
For every backer there is a layer, and the price of [1.18] is one for the blue button pressers of the real "shorty". The layers however were rewarded by taking on Tottenham at similar odds for the trip to Rodney Parade.
One wonders if that price would have pushed up a bit higher if the pitch for Sunday would have been the same as for the Millwall game. Those hopes are gone, but Spurs will have to play better than they did in the first half at Newport.
Pochettino's team are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, and the Argentine could hand a first start to recent signing Lucas Moura. Defender Toby Alderweireld didn't travel to Italy on Tuesday, but he could be in line for a return to action.
With the price already telling us it's very much a one-horse race, there's a chance to boost the ultra-short outright odds to a more-than-healthy [1.54] by backing Tottenham to win both halves in the HT/FT market.
It's possibly my best angle of attack, as Newport put up stern resistance in the previous round and were certainly far from disgraced in the 2-0 defeat at Wembley, and if Rochdale do the same and make it tight, it negates my thinking regarding higher than the -1 on the Asian Handicap.
On the flip side, backing Rochdale +3 might be an interesting one, so monitor those prices just before kick off on Sunday.
Rochdale's clean sheet record in the competition so far has been impressive; with four clean sheets out of five and just two conceded (against Millwall at the Den). They are certainly capable of a shutout, as their League One tally suggests with 11 shipped at Spotland all season. They also have 11 clean sheets in total in the third tier.
Backers of the Under 2.5 Goals took advantage of Tottenham's sluggish ways over the two Newport games to collect on both occasions in the 1-1 and 2-0, and you can take the Under 2.5 at [2.60].
Nailing the bet to the Tottenham mast, I am hoping they can get themselves up for this game, as a lot comes down to mentality after such a massive performance against Juventus.
The men to focus on for the visitors are Fernando Llorente, Son Heung-Min and Erik Lamela.
Llorente is expected to start in place of Kane, and the Anytime Goalscorer price on the Sportsbook is 4/6. However, I will take the 10/11 on Son, who has featured in all three previous FA Cup games against League One opponents. The South Korean came on as a late sub in Turin on Tuesday, so I am hoping he starts. He was superb in Wales against Newport and really tormented his opponents - his positive nature can hopefully set the tone.
He's my bet.
If you are looking to a surprising Rochdale scorer, the man in FA Cup form is Ian Henderson, and he has netted five in the competition so far. He also takes penalties. Matt Done is a dangerous winger who can nick a goal, and both can be backed at 11/1 and 12/1 via the Sportsbook to score first.