Studying the preceding form of a team’s opposition, Portsmouth have had an easier first half to the season at home than the rest of League 2, whilst Luton have benefitted from the poor form of their hosts. Hartlepool are squandering their advantages.
There is an old adage in football that says:
“It all evens out over the course of a season”
This is most commonly brought out for an airing by managers taking the philosophical (often resigned) approach in their post-game interviews following a refereeing decision that has cost their charges the game, and it implies that if we’re hard done by this week, then good fortune will surely follow in the coming weeks.
Certainly the structure of the league does its best to ensure this; every team will play every other team twice, once at home and once away. Aside from the Premier League’s gluttonous commercial proposal for a 39th game overseas, the very fabric of the game does its best to ensure parity, reducing the variables that would affect the final league positions to only those on the pitch.
However, there is an unavoidable variable woven into this fabric, namely the form of the teams. The league structure cannot control the fact that each team will not play consistently throughout the season, and so invariably the ‘luck of the draw’ comes into play. For example, it is logical to want to play the pre-season title favourites at their lowest ebb, when their squad has been ravaged by injuries, suspensions, fatigue, etc. on the understanding that this will give your team a competitive advantage, because other teams will invariably have to play them at their highest peak.
The objective of this analysis is to understand which teams thus far in the 2015/16 season have been the beneficiaries of good fortune, and which have been proverbially screwed by the fixture list. To do this, I have assessed the points per game (PpG) form of each team’s opponents over the preceding six home or away games. For example, if Team A are playing Team B at home, the difficulty of Team A’s task is calculated by the previous six away games Team B has played. If these read: Win, Draw, Loss, Win, Draw, Draw, then the previous six away games for Team B have garnered 9 points, with a PpG of 1.5. Team B in this instance can be considered to be in good form, thus disadvantaging Team A. The following week they may play Team C with a last six record of: Draw, Loss, Loss, Draw, Loss, Draw, totalling 3 points, or 0.5 PpG, and in poor form, thus providing Team A with an advantage.
Over the coming posts I will look at the four leading English divisions, starting here with League 2. All data in the following tables is for the 2015/16 season, correct until 31st December 2015. Please also note that in the games where a team had yet to accumulate six home or away games that the average of all the preceding games (up to 6) has been taken. The first home and away games of the season have been discounted because there was no form assigned to each team, due to the lack of games.
Home Games: Portsmouth Benefit, Luton Disadvantaged
The above table shows that Portsmouth have been the leading beneficiaries of poor form from teams visiting them; the away teams at Fratton Park had accumulated only 0.7 PpG away from home in their preceding games, resulting in Portsmouth having the joint-fewest defeats at home all season (three). This is a distinct advantage for one of the pre-season favourites, especially when compared with Luton, Stevenage and Crawley, who have found their visitors consistently in form (>1.45 PpG). Accrington Stanley have performed commendably, with some tough home games and a squad that was expected to struggle, but they find themselves in eighth position in the league table at the turn of the year, having won four of their nine home games. Yeovil and Hartlepool by contrast have been blessed with favourable home fixtures to date, with their opponents averaging 0.94 PpG on their recent away trips, and yet both teams find themselves struggling at the foot of the table.
Away Games: Top Teams Overcoming Adversity to Succeed
Luton’s bad luck at home has been countered by the most favourable away fixtures in the league; they have been visiting sides that have accumulated less than a point per game at home in their recent games. This is reflected in Luton’s results thus far, where they have scored 12 points at home but 18 away. Plymouth, Northampton and Wycombe should all be applauded for their performances on the road this season; between them they have lost an even share of only six away games from 44 played despite repeatedly facing some of the toughest home form in the league. As a result, they justifiably occupy three of the top five positions in the division.
Rankings: No Team Significantly Advantaged Home And Away
The below graphic shows the rankings for both home (horizontal) and away (vertical) games, ranked from 1-24 against the other teams in the division; a ranking of 1 in both, towards the bottom left of the chart, represents poor form of opponents in both home and away games, whereas the further to the right and top of the chart the harder the opponents become based on form.
The chart shows that of all the teams, Hartlepool have had probably the most favoured opening half of the season. Their opponents visiting Victoria Park rank 5th most favourable in terms of recent away form, whilst on their travels they encounter home teams also in poor form, ranked 6th in the league. This reflects badly on their league position of 4th bottom at time of writing. However, no team can claim an easier start to the season both home and away. Similarly, there is no team with a difficult season both home and away to date. The most unfavourable are arguably Morecombe, Newport County, Crawley and Stevenage, although the first two could have had less favourable conditions at home, and the same is true of the latter two away from home.
In summary it can be realistically argued that whilst no team has been significantly advantaged or disadvantaged both home and away. However, the distribution of teams in the rankings chart shows just how different each team’s season has been so far, and far from the fixture list being an un-influential constant, its fortunes do in fact vary wildly for each team.