It's been a time for catching up with old friends, family gatherings and eating too much.

But enough of Hannibal Lecter's Christmas cele­brations, it's been a little more modest around Tenner Bet towers, well perhaps with the exception of the gorging of face (mine, that is, not the mother in law's).

The waist is thickening faster than a beef gravy laced with a dollop of congealed ox blood, my Quality Street chin has taken on another layer and the last time I saw my choux they were a pair of profiteroles. The ageing process is graphically illustrated at this time of year, so much so that I have long since given up on the diet plans that infiltrate the media come the second week of January.

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The end of the festive period coincides with that round of the FA Cup when the bigger clubs enter and talk of giantkilling is as ubiquitous and tedious - yet still marginally funnier - than it would be in a two-hour production of Jack and the Beanstalk featuring Julian Clary.

Traditionally, the third round was a time to make money, not least because the incidences of smaller teams overturning the big boys were actually fewer than perceived. For example, to listen to the average Sky Sports bulletin on the preponderance of upsets would leave one to conclude that the FA Cup had been shared about by Whitley Bay Town, Forest Green Rovers and Ebbsfleet United over the years.

It hasn't, though, as serial wins for ­Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal attest. The explanation is simple enough, since Wigan's wonderful triumph last season came with a hefty price: a reputed £90m in lost tele­vision revenue as a result of rele­gation. While it would be naïve to ascribe all of Wigan's woes to winning the FA Cup, the mere fact that they had to face Arsenal in a vital league game just three days after last year's final certainly didn't help their cause. The punter, then, is left in the middle trying to ascertain which sides will rest players and which will being going all out to save a dying season.


Hull City look as if they are the kind of team who might just fancy a bit of a run in the cup this season. They have had a bright start to their second shot at the Premier League and the signing of Tom Huddlestone has proved particu­larly astute. If they are to reach the fourth round, they have a difficult task in store with a trip to the Riverside to face resurgent Middlesbrough. However, at a best price of 2/1, I'm happy to take the risk. Of the teams at the lower end of the Barclays Premier League, they look one of the best equipped to stay up. Steve Bruce is the kind of old-fashioned manager who will not take the tie lightly, not least with local pride at stake. Nevertheless, Aitor Karanka has assumed control at Middlesbrough in impressive style and the Championship side have started to turn the corner since Jose Mourinho's former assistant was appointed in November.

Up the road, Newcastle host Cardiff City and, at 8/11, are also worthy of consideration not least because of the uncertainty surrounding City. Alan Pardew was in trouble himself not so long ago but he has reaped the benefits of Mike Ashley's support, and a considerable outlay on some of French football's best-kept secrets.


A Hull and Newcastle double pays 4.19/1 and is this week's selection.


Another tale of woe last time out when Peterborough United did their best to ruin my Christmas by undoing a sizeable treble. The good news is that there's always another week. No really, that is the good news . . . -£84.70.