Days away from the start of the season, teams up and down the country will be eager to kick off the campaign in the best possible fashion. Blackpool are no different, and given the relatively small turnover of players, should be well positioned to make a strong start. However, one wonders just how key early points on the board are. Does a flying start equate to success?
With that in mind, I’ve carried out some research from the last five seasons into how teams winning automatic promotion – Blackpool’s lofty target – have begun the Championship season. For the purposes of this exercise, I have read ‘start of the season’ to mean the opening 10 fixtures. Here are the findings:
The table below, starting with the most recent season (11/12), shows how many points each of the promoted teams had accumulated after 10 matches, how many points per game and their league position at that stage. It also shows their final points tally and overall points per game at the end of the season. The chart produces some notable statistics…
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1. A good start is important
If nothing else, it can be conclusively seen that early points on the board are vital. Nine of the last 10 teams to clinch a top two spot were in a play-off place with 10 games played, and eight of those were in the top three places. Reading are the obvious exception to the rule, but the Berkshire club aside, all promoted teams had taken at least 17 points in the first stage of the season – equivalent to a minimum of five wins, two draws and three defeats.
Half of the sides listed took more than two points per game from their opening set of fixtures with QPR taking a remarkable 26 points from a possible 30. The table above also displays a striking fact about the team who is top of the table after 10 games. In each of the last four season, the team top at this early stage has gone on to win automatic promotion.
2. Reading prove comeback is possible, but rare
The one clear outlier to the research is Reading, who embarked on an emphatic run of strong results in the second half of last season to not only win automatic promotion, but seal the title too. Despite only taking 12 points from their first 10 games and finding themselves down in 15th place, they were able to turn it around and stun the rest of the Championship in the process.
From match 11 through to 46, Reading averaged 2.14 points per game, which equates to better than a win and a draw from every two matches. In particular, their record from February onwards of 14 wins, two draws and just two defeats is hard to imagine being replicated and as such is something of a one-off. Their run was truly astonishing.
3. Setting the pace allows for more mistakes later on
Not only do early points often lead to a successful season, but it also takes the pressure off. Seven of the 10 teams who went on to secure a top two place in the last five seasons took fewer points per game after the opening 10 matches – the cushion they had established in the early fixtures proving pivotal. For example QPR, after winning 2.6 points per game in the first 10 games, only took a relatively comfortable 1.72 points per game thereafter.
In effect once the hard work is done, it can be difficult for other teams to reel you in providing you don’t completely implode. The exceptions to this are obviously Reading, as well as West Brom and Stoke in 07/08 who managed to achieve automatic promotion with unusually low end of season’s points tallies of 81 and 79 respectively.
Referring back to the season visualiser from yesterday, how do Blackpool’s opening 10 fixtures look? And do they provide the opportunity to take up a strong league position early on?
For those who missed yesterday’s post on the season visualiser, games in the above chart have been classified in five groups:
- Big green circle – Five easiest games (according to the visualiser’s algorithm)
- Small green circle – 10 next easiest games
- Big red circle – Five hardest games
- Small red circle – 10 next hardest games
- Small grey circle – 16 average difficulty games
As you can see, none of Blackpool’s five easiest fixtures of the season take place in this period, so there are no so-called home bankers. However, there are four games which fall into the next easiest category – the home matches against Ipswich, Huddersfield, Charlton and the away trip to Barnsley. There are also three games which fall into the middle category – Millwall away, Leeds at home and Middlesbrough at home.
Unfortunately, two of the Seasiders’ most difficult five fixtures take place within the opening 10 matches – the away games at Leicester and Cardiff – as well as one other difficult trip to Hull. Based on the theory that a minimum of at least 17 points are required from this set of matches, it could be a fairly tough ask. Assuming the greens turn to wins, the greys to draws, and the reds to defeats, ‘Pool would take only 15 points.
Reading showed that it is possible to make up for a sub-standard start to the campaign, but if Blackpool are to begin as a team they aspire to be, then some notable scalps may need to be taken in the opening weeks of the season.