Soccer Magazine

Dodgy Numbers Ask “Can We Dodge the Bullet?”

By Colin Randall @salutsunderland
John McCormick:

John McCormick:
reading between the lines

Before the season started I used some dodgy stats and history to predict this seasons relegated candidates, including a couple of wildcards. From 20th place upwards they were:

QPR – Purely because a promoted team is almost certain to go down and most often it has been the playoff winner. I had to go with this, whatever the bookies said about Burnley.

Hull, on the basis that second season syndrome’s due and as two London teams have never been relegated in the same season QPR’s demise must mean Palace are safe.

Villa, on the grounds of their being the only club to have been in the bottom three for each of the last three seasons without being relegated. That’s scary stuff for a fan.

Southampton were the first wildcard, chosen because of the personnel changes and turbulence the club has experienced this year.

West Brom, because of last season’s iffy form and the way they appointed their manager, were the second.

My selection attracted some derision, especially from Hull City fans, but there were some people who agreed with me. So how am I doing? Has my eye been wiped (is this purely a Liverpool expression?) or are my fans (as if!) triumphant and beaming as they head down to Paddy Power to collect an early payout? Let’s see.

QPR. Not doing too well, it would seem. Mr QPR said I’d written a rubbish article. QPR picked up points against us, perhaps giving credence to his claim we’d be relegation candidates ourselves, but they are bottom with the worst goal difference of all 20 clubs, and they are not getting lucky breaks.

Hull. Was their early exit from the Europa League a blessing in disguise? They’ve had some mixed results but have managed to steer well clear of the drop zone so far. Bald ugly bloke claimed they’d be pushing the top half and he must be sleeping with a smile on his face right now but patchy form makes me wonder how long his sweet dreams will last.

Swallavfc responded to my original post by saying Villa have never been relegated from the Premier League and therefore would be safe, but then said they would be in the brown stuff. It seemed he’d got the first part right as Villa had a draw and three wins in the first four games, including two away from home, and that’s not relegation form. Since then they’ve lost four games on the bounce, albeit against top teams. So while there’s no brown stuff at the moment there could be some over the horizon if they don’t get going again.

Southampton started even better than Villa, with four wins from seven, and then they destroyed us to consolidate third place with the second best GD in the PL. There’s surely no chance of them going down; they only need to win five of their remaining thirty games to reach the magic ten, magic because no team with ten wins has ever been relegated from the Premiership.

That leaves West Brom. I’d opined that they needed to avoid playing catchup. An opening day draw and a couple of fine wins sorted that out for them but they have had an iffy patch since. They are currently clear of the danger zone but, for me, the jury’s still out on Irvine et al.

So it’s more eye-wipe for me than a handout for my fans. But what does the future hold? With eight games gone there’s still room for surprises but it’s time to revise the prediction, and I’ve decided to use points earned per game in doing so.

This is because only four clubs have been relegated with 38 points or more since the turn of the century, so I’m working on the somewhat dodgy expectation that any team which averages a point per game will be alright. Four of the five teams I picked, Saints, Hull, Villa and W Brom are all above 1 point per game. The other, QPR , is deep in the mire and averaging only 0.5 points per game. We are bang on the 1 point per game mark ourselves but our goal difference has plummeted, so much so that we’ve dropped below Crystal Palace, also on 8 points.

However, averages like QPR’s 0.5 points per game are not particularly helpful as predictors this early in the season. Multiplying each average by 38 gives a final points total but such spot figures will remain erratic for a while. For example, after 5 games SAFC and Burnley were on target for 30 points, WBA were on target for 38. After 7 games SAFC and WBA were on target for 43 points, Burnley for 23. I’ve therefore decided to focus on rolling averages and, in particular, the way the number of points earned per game has changed for each club since the start of the season. A club with a rising  score will be improving but one whose points per game is dropping is a cause for concern among its fans. A club with a steady score might be doing alright but might not, as we will see.

Here are the rolling average points per game for the first eight games:

SAFC

QPR

Hull

Villa

WBA

Soton

1.00

0.00

3.00

3.00

1.00

0.00

1.00

0.00

2.00

2.00

1.00

0.50

0.67

1.00

1.33

2.33

0.67

1.33

0.75

0.75

1.25

2.50

0.50

1.75

0.80

0.80

1.20

2.00

1.00

2.00

0.83

0.67

1.00

1.67

1.33

2.17

1.14

0.57

1.29

1.43

1.14

1.86

1

0.5

1.25

1.25

1.125

2

It’s a bit clearer if these numbers are represented graphically:

Season 2014-15: Average points per game, October 2104

Season 2014-15: Average points per game, October 2104

And, although mathematicians would say I really shouldn’t use them trendlines simplify the picture:

Average points per gam, October 2014

Average points per game, October 2014

Hull and Villa are not in danger at the moment but are trending downwards. We and WBA are treading water around the 1 point per game mark, with WBA’s draw last night keeping them above it. QPR look like they are trending upwards but they are coming off a low base and I’m not changing my prediction about them, they are still looking like relegation fodder.

So as things stand, of the five I originally chose only QPR remain in danger. Although I’m not writing off Hull and Villa, nor wildcard WBA, they might shortly need replacing in the relegation stakes. Who should we draft in? Favourites must be the two teams at bottom with QPR, i.e. Burnley and Newcastle,  the one team with us on eight points, namely Crystal Palace, and, after Saturday, ourselves.

Burnley are are as bad as QPR, with 0.5 points per game but what about the Mags and Crystal Palace? Here are their trendlines, along with Burnley and us:

Average goals per game, October 2014

Average points per game, October 2014

If Hull are safe second season syndrome could strike Crystal Palace. However, that would mean two London clubs going down. That’s never happened before and as Palace are trending upwards much faster than the rest I have grounds for excluding them. The best compromise is to have them as wildcards. That leaves NUFC and us. Until Southampton we were sound in defence and as games like that happen only  every thirty years I can discount the result, plus NUFC are below us anyway. So third place goes to Newcastle – for the time being. My stats require it but my intuition says it won’t happen. That leaves us to occupy the final wildcard spot.

Eight games from now we’ll have played Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City, not to mention Crystal Palace. I’ll revisit my dodgy stats around then to see how we and the other clubs are doing, and how my dodgy prediction is getting along. Hold on to your hats until then, ladies and gentlemen, it could get bumpy!

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Monsieur Salut

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