The cameras come looking for a Friday night shock based on Brackley's recent past, but wily Keith Hill has too much at stake to lose, says Ian Lamont...
"Keith Hill won't want a black mark of an FA Cup exit early on. Mind you, Justin Edinburgh, the Gillingham boss in 2016, made minimal changes for the cup and the Kent club were still turned over by Brackley."
Tranmere Rovers v Brackley Town
Friday, November 27, BBC Two
At first glance, it isn't immediately obvious why a team in mid-table of League Two hosting opponents from about the same in the National League North captures the imagination for television, which inevitably looks for an upset in the FA Cup.
When lining up this tie, the BBC clearly felt a League Two side which had sacked their manager, Mike Jackson, were there for the taking, even at home.
However, it is much more than that. Brackley Town, from near Oxford, have finished the past two seasons in the top four of their division. They have also beaten league opposition in 2013 and 2016 - in fact, the same club, Gillingham - in the FA Cup first round, before falling at the second.
In addition, they have reached the final of non-league's biggest cup competition, the FA Trophy, winning it the second time, in 2018. Several of the team are stool at the club, and so is the manager, Kevin Wilkin.
Saints could be Armed for draw
What is notable about the statistics from Brackley's two ties against Gillingham is that both went to replays, the first after a 1-1 draw (own goal by the Gills) before a 1-0 replay win and the second Brackley won in extra time, after two 2-2 draws. This tie will be decided one way or the other on the day this time, but the draw (in the 90 minute markets) shouldn't be dismissed. It is priced at about 5.04/1 with the away win 7.06/1 and the hosts as expected odds on, at about 1.68/13.
One of the very likeable facts about Brackley is that they have retained players for long periods. Wilkin arrived in September 2015 and, like a successful fund manager in the City perhaps, has found some good selections and kept them for the long term. It's pretty rare at this level.
For example, James Armson, who scored a hat-trick in that second match against the Gills in 2016, as well as a goal in the first match, is still at the club. A former Coventry City academy player, the midfielder has featured for England C (non-league's national side). It's quirky to note that he also ended up with three yellow cards in that year's competition, joint second from round one onwards.
Lee Ndlovu, who scored 21 goals in 2018-19 as a lone striker, also played in that FA Cup run and he has four goals already this season, two against Marske United in a previous round.
Matt Lowe, Shane Byrne and Glenn Walker, the midfielder who scored in 2013 against the Kent side, are still there, as is captain Gareth Dean, a leader from centre-back who scored the winner in their FA Trophy triumph. Wilkin notes that "we need everything to fall right" to win the game, but he - and many of his squad - have had that experience.
Tranmere's form has picked up in recent weeks, just before Keith Hill came in. His arrival was welcomed with mixed comments by fans. "A lack of ambition" was one of the negative remarks on the appointment of a man given the impossible task of managing financially impacted Bolton last season in their race to the bottom of League One.
The critics forget that Hill enjoyed promotion from League Two with Rochdale - and several fine FA Cup runs. Will his appointment prove to be the lower level equivalent of Jose Mourinho's appointment at Spurs? His best days are behind him, based on his time at Manchester United, was one of the kinder remarks a year ago.
Rovers defeated Accrington in the last round with a temporary manager in charge and have won four games - in League Two and the FA Cup - in a row. They came back from behind twice against Port Vale to win 4-3 and thumped hapless Grimsby 5-0.
There could be a temptation to put out one of those so-called "teams to win a match", but it is far likelier Hill will put out his strongest team to try to ensure victory. He won't want a black mark of an FA Cup exit early on. Mind you, Justin Edinburgh, the Gills boss in 2016, made minimal changes for the cup and the Kent club were still turned over. Hill has new fans to win over.
Vaughan the man to start Hill's cup run
The FA Cup gives James Vaughan, who became the Premier League's youngest scorer in 2005 and still holds that title, another chance at the spotlight. Now 32, his career hasn't matched the fame of some of his peers because of injuries. The Tranmere striker has just passed the landmark of 100 career goals.
I think we can expect early "containing" caution from Brackley, but there's no chance of a replay, so they have to attack at some point. Keeper Alastaire Worby marshalled the Conference North's second meanest defence last season. However, the Saints have just one clean sheet this season after a slower - delayed - start. The season didn't begin until October. Even so, with Brackley as far down the table as they are, they have much further to climb to reach the heights of previous season and we must conclude they are under cooked, compared to the past two years.
There's goals in both teams
On that basis, while I'm tempted to believe that both sides can score, I am erring on the side that Brackley's threat will not be as potent as it might have been last season, or even in 2016.
With the "both sides to score" price under evens for "yes" and "no" it is clear the layers think that bet is a good'un, too. Which dents the price. A more interesting and practical way to play it is to pick a correct score and over 2.5 goals. A score of 2-1 is 13-2 on the Sportsbook.
For Tranmere, Peter Clarke and Otis Khan are among four players who have two goals. Kaiyne Woolery has plenty of experience at the level, but has played fewer times.
In Brackley's case, Ndlovu's prowess of recent seasons has given way somewhat to Tre Mitford, sufficiently to make the latter a marginally shorter price to either score at any time, at about 13/5 or be first goalscorer at 10/1. Vaughan, meanwhile, heads both lists at 10/11 at any time, or 10/3 for first scorer, and I'll be looking to take him in the latter one.
FA Cup 2020-21