A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
As often happens, the other day I found myself thinking about football when I was supposed to be working. Specifically, I was wondering what would be the simplest way to summarise a team’s league season. The league table tells you how they ended up but not how they got there, while a list of results shows the journey but it can be hard to spot patterns and trends. I concluded that something graphical would be more suitable.
The most commonly-seen football graph is that of a team’s league position over the season, but this doesn’t paint a particularly accurate picture of a team’s progress. The position of a given side in the table is often influenced as much by the fortunes of others around them as by their own results, and by mid-season there are always a few clubs who’ve played significantly different numbers of matches due to cup or weather-related postponements.
Looking elsewhere, I’ve always liked the Guardian’s match by match performance graph, which give the shape of a team’s results over the season, but this still doesn’t jump out at me as much as I’d like. I thought about the other data we often see and happened upon form tables: the rows of Ws, Ds and Ls that show how a team’s been performing recently. They usually cover the past 6 games, as this is a meaningful enough interval to smooth out the effects of a one-off freak result and usually covers an equal number of home and away games.
It’s hardly exciting to look at though, but if we substitute each letter for the number of points gained in the match (i.e. W=3, D=1, L=0), we can replace the string of six letters with a single number giving the average number of points won by a team over their last 6 games. This can then be graphed to show their form in points terms at any given stage of the season.
I’ve created the graph below for Torquay’s season. The first 5 matches are joined by a dashed line to indicate that this isn’t ‘proper’ data (we’re averaging less than 6 matches because they haven’t played that many yet). Click on the graph below to view the full size version:
You’ll notice that I’ve used shading to break the season down into numbered segments, which I’ve summarised below. It’s a bit of a canter through, but hopefully you get the idea:
1 (games 1-4) – Gulls began the season by continuing their eventually record-breaking runs of clean sheets, which finally ended after Port Vale scored a consolation goal in our 2-1 victory at Vale Park. After 4 games we were the only side in England with a 100% record, which is remarkable given our 17th-placed finish the season before.
2 (games 5-13) – Despite responding to their defence finally being breached with a spirited and unusual 3-0 penalty shootout victory over League 1 Bournemouth in the JPT, Torquay’s next league match, and the subsequent 8, passed without a win being recorded. By the end of this run of 5 draws and 4 defeats, the Gulls had the joint worst form in the division.
3 (games 14-18) – The 13th game had seen a point salvaged at the death when Kevin Nicholson’s free kick squirmed past Gillingham’s Alan Julian (who’s just been released, so am assuming that wasn’t a one-off), and the euphoria carried us unbeaten through the next 5 league games, plus 2 FA Cup ties that aren’t included in this analysis. This run culminated with a unexpectedly dominant 3-1 win over Wycombe at Adams Park.
4 (games 19-25) – The resurgence was ended by eventual champions Chesterfield in early December, with a solitary Jack Lester strike the difference at the B2net. The winter weather played havoc with the Gulls’ fixtures and it wasn’t until New Year’s Day that they were in action again. Whether it was rustiness or a delayed response to an unfortunate defeat, January was a barren month in which just one win was recorded.
5 (games 26-30) – The arrival of Craig Stanley and Jake Robinson on loan at the end of January sparked another burst of good form and Gulls surged back up the table, at one point winning 3 consecutive matches without conceding a goal.
6 (games 31-34) – Whether in response to a congested schedule following the winter postponements or something more subtle, Torquay’s performances dipped again and they managed just 1 win in their next 4 games, although the similarly indifferent form of others saw them remain in touching distance of the promotion race.
7 (games 35-41) – An emphatic 5-0 dismantling of fellow promotion-chasers Shrewsbury at Plainmoor heralded a fine run of form, with Gulls averaging over 2 goals per game and establishing themselves firmly in the playoff zone.
8 (games 42-46) – The season culminated in one of the toughest run-ins in the division (which I documented here), with no wins being recorded in the final 5 fixtures. However, creditable draws against Wycombe, Chesterfield and Port Vale allowed us to cling to the final playoff spot.
If you read my post on consistency a short while back, you may remember that Torquay are prone to going on runs of form. The above analysis underlines this tendency, with their graph being easily split into ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. Just for a contrast, and as a treat for @maxihobbs, here’s Cheltenham’s graph for comparison (again, clicking will cause a larger version to manifest itself):
You can see even at first blush that it’s much more jagged than Torquay’s, so rather than using the shading to divide their notoriously inconsistent season up into chunks, I’ve highlighted their wins instead. It shows that they only achieved back-to-back victories on one occasion, and that a reasonably promising campaign took a massive nosedive just over halfway through, with the Robins averaging just 1 win in 7 across the latter 21 games of the season.
I’d really appreciate feedback on whether this is a useful way of visualising a team’s season, and if so any suggestions on how it could be further developed. If people like it and want to see more then I’ll turn it into a series to pass the time over the summer.