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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 further on the teams at the top. How much has the promotion race changed, and what can we ascertain from the data?

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

While Peterborough didn’t play, the other contenders for automatic promotion from League One had a chance to add three points to their tallies. It was a good day for Sunderland, Rotherham and Coventry, but Portsmouth slipped up again losing away to an increasingly dangerous Fleetwood.

It has been a feature of Portsmouth’s recent performances that they have been able to generate an average of well over five shots on target per game. But the defensively solid Fleetwood reduced them to a single accurate shot at goal. Tuesday’s game is going to be tough - be in no doubt.

Now let’s have a look at what the weekend’s performances and results mean for the automatic promotion run in.

First, here is the overall performance chart for the entire season and for the whole league.

Adding a single round of games to this plot doesn’t make an obvious difference. As the pool of data increases, the influence one can expect from the addition of a little more data diminishes. But I like to include this because it gives you a flavour of the season as a whole.

You’d expect to see Bolton and Southend bringing up the rear - and they are. You’d also expect to see the current leading teams in League One at the bottom left - they are. Well, with the exception of Wycombe who, despite still sitting third in the league, don’t play all that well. It’s an interesting anomaly.

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

Remembering that this plot covers the season as a whole, when you consider how awful results were from October to the end of December, it’s actually quite an achievement for Sunderland to be as close to the leaders as they are here.

The momentum is certainly with us as we enjoy this turbo charged effort to chase down the leaders. In seasons past, there have tended to be one or two teams away from the others, it’s working in our favour that, this season, the leading group is so large and nobody has pulled away.

As interesting as the entire season plots are, where we find the most useful information to predict the run in is the ten-game form - so let’s see how the ten-game form performance plot looks for the whole league.

After falling back a little last weekend, Sunderland appear to have moved back into the lead for overall performance with Coventry, Rotherham and Fleetwood (there’s that name again) just behind.

Next we’ll take a closer look at the business end of the plot and assess the change in position of the main contenders compared to last week.

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.

Sunderland are the big winners this week. Not only did winning by three goals to nil boost our position in the vertical direction, but getting six shots on target to Bristol Rovers’ single effort has improved the horizontal position too. In contrast, Rotherham, Coventry, Doncaster and Portsmouth especially, all fell back.

By reducing the plot to a single dimension of data that gives the distance of each team’s datapoint from the bottom left corner, it’s possible to generate a performance league table that ranks the sides from best to worst based on their last ten games.

The performance table shows a healthy lead for Sunderland. The timing of this surge in performance couldn’t be much better as we get into the business end of the season, but make no mistake, the next two games are going to be a serious test. If we’re still leading this table after next weekend, I might just consider booking a holiday at the end of May.

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.

Changes in this plot happen in several ways:

  1. Sides get ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ games out of the way (for example, we played one of our easier games on Saturday).
  2. The remaining opponents for each promotion chasing side have changes in form.
  3. The promotion chasing sides have their own fluctuations in form.

Consequently, due to this complexity, the positions of the datapoints for the sides and their remaining opponents constantly drift. That’s what keeps this measure of the run in interesting.

Looking at the ‘opponents’ datapoints in isolation, it’s clear that Peterborough have the easiest run in in absolute terms. Then come Sunderland and Rotherham. Finally, Portsmouth and Coventry have the hardest set of opponents. But this isn’t the full picture.

The difficulty of a run in is also determined by how well the promotion chasing side is performing. We already established, in our performance table, that Sunderland lead the way followed by Coventry. So the run in difficulty needs to be a relative measure. We get this by calculating the ‘distance’ between each promotion chasing side’s datapoint and that of its opponents. The results of this 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. And the positive value in the change column suggests that the run in became easier since the last time we measured it a week ago.

Peterborough have the next easiest run in and theirs also became easier. Rotherham’s run in difficulty stayed very nearly the same while both Coventry’s and Portsmouth’s became significantly harder.

Sunderland are bearing down on the leaders in the real league table, are currently the best performing side in the league, and have the easiest run in.

It’s beginning to look a lot like promotion, but this is a very big week.