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The Stat Man: How has the promotion run in changed after the weekend’s action?

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The Stat Man is back after a round of games this weekend which saw Sunderland close in on the teams at the top. How much has the promotion race changed, and what can we ascertain from the data?

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It was a mixed weekend for the main contenders for automatic promotion from League One. Sunderland, Portsmouth and Coventry all picked up important wins. While the league leaders, Rotherham, could only manage a draw at home against struggling AFC Wimbledon and Peterborough lost against a dangerous looking Fleetwood (take note Sunderland).

Last week, I introduced a method by which we might be able to predict how the promotion race could play out. The conclusion reached was that the final outcome will be too tight to call but Sunderland had every chance given their run in of games. Today, I look again at the data for the whole of League One following the latest round of games to see what, if anything, has changed.

First let’s have a look at the overall performance chart for the entire season and for the whole league.

As is the nature of such analyses, a single game’s worth of data added to data that takes an average of the whole season won’t make much of a difference. The teams you’d think might lead the way, still do and the same goes for the relegation contenders trailing at the back.

Our main concern is what is happening in the crowded area towards the bottom left, so let’s zoom in on that for a closer look.

For all Sunderland are very much challengers for automatic promotion now, that wretched period from October to Boxing Day means that - barring something extraordinary - their position on this plot will continue to show them in the chasing group for the remainder of the season. That doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot secure automatic promotion, it just means that the average performance is skewed by being pants for a significant chunk of the season.

A couple of special mentions here, first for Fleetwood, who are looking like a very good bet for the play offs. And also for Wycombe who, despite sitting third in the current League One table, do not feature among the best performers, thus defying that notion that you need to play well to do well!

Next let’s see how the ten-game form performance plot looks for the whole league.

Unfortunately, Sunderland seem to have dropped back a bit but we will discuss that in more detail shortly. For now, I want to draw your attention to Bristol Rovers, who we play twice in the next three weeks, as well as Blackpool, Shrewsbury and Southend, who we also play soon. All teams that are struggling.

Next we’ll take a closer look at the business end of the plot.

The arrows show the change in position from prior to the weekend’s games. A move down or left is good, but a move up or right is bad. I should probably give all the teams plotted the full analysis ‘treatment’ but for today, I’m sticking to the five I have picked out as promotion favourites (sorry Fleetwood, Gillingham and Ipswich fans).

This weekend’s big winners are Coventry, who have made a strong move towards ‘perfection’. However, it is worth highlighting who their opponents were - Southend aren’t exactly the toughest side to perform well against. I look forward to seeing how they get on when they have a proper game to deal with on March 1st.

Unfortunately for us, Sunderland made an unwelcome move to the right despite a good win at Oxford and another clean sheet. The slight shift down is good and comes from another game in which big Jon didn’t need to pick the ball out of the back of the net. However, the shift to the right occurred because our old problem with an inability to create much and get shots on target haunted us again. We got one shot on target to Oxford’s three. To only give away three as the visiting team is very good, to only get one of your own is not.

Last week, Sunderland led the way narrowly from Portsmouth at the top of the performance table (which gives the ‘distance’ of each team’s datapoint from the bottom left of the plot as a single number), this week has brought an unwelcome change, as you can see below.

Finally, let’s update the run ins for the automatic promotion favourites. Just as I did previously, each team’s remaining opposition have been combined to a single datapoint and plotted on the overall performance chart.

Just as last week, in absolute terms, Peterborough have the easiest set of remaining games and Portsmouth have the hardest, but this doesn’t paint the whole picture. We need to look at a team’s opposition relative to their own performance and we do this by calculating the distance between those two datapoints for each team. The results are as follows.

Taking into account the weekend’s performances and the resulting changes in remaining games for each side, the data still says Sunderland have the easiest run in. However, the change column shows a negative value, this means that our remaining games got slightly (very slightly) harder. Conversely, the remaining games for Peterborough, Coventry and Rotherham got significantly easier.

Sunderland may not be leading this table for much longer unless they can finally address their problems with creating enough clear chances in games.

It’s still all to play for and it’s still going to be very tight.