Consider form to be more than just win, lose or draw
Tips and advice from the betting industry insider
Form. A four-letter word so frequently used in sport to describe so much. But what is it and what does it really mean?
There’s no right answer, because there’s no set definition of exactly what constitutes form. Individuals are free to take differing stances on what they take form to mean.
Is a team being in or out of form purely dictated by results? Or should performance levels be taken into account? If you lose two games in a row both because of offside goals not spotted by the linesmen, are you really out of form?
How many games does it need for a team to be in or out of form? Two? Six? By the time a good or bad run reaches ten or 15 games is it still form, or is it just a change in ability level for that team which is enabling them to be consistently good or bad?
Strength of opposition must surely be considered too. If Arsenal have a run of six games against bottom-half teams and pick up 16 points from 18 are they in form?
Or do they just have the ability in their squad to entitle them to take 16 points from those six games by playing at their normal level?
Similarly, if you’re Hull and the fixture computer decides that at a certain stage of the season you’ll have a run of six consecutive games against top-six sides, you win one, draw two and lose three, in the form table it reads WDDLLL.
That looks like a team out of form. But those five points, in the context of those six opponents, may well actually be an overachievement. A team playing better than usual, not worse.
If it’s so easy to become 'in-form', by definition it must also be easy to lose it again. And if you can swing between being in and out of form almost at the drop of a hat, perhaps form isn’t as important to predicting what is most likely to happen in the future as many of our friends or TV pundits believe.
I often think the difference between us as bettors and casual sports fans is we need to think a bit more cleverly. If that sounds arrogant, so be it. That’s the way we need to be.
This week I got into a Twitter discussion with someone about the recent form of Wolves, a club who lost all five league games in February and I was told: “When we lose to Reading on Saturday, what then? If you keep picking losers, you lose”.
Those “losers” he was referring to are a squad of players who lost all five games in February. They are also the very same players who won four, drew one and lost one in January.
Apparently they were all winners then but are all losers now. How did that seismic shift from being a group of glorious successes to abject failures occur so rapidly?
Is it completely impossible that after five below-par efforts, a performance more in keeping with January could still happen tomorrow? Or was the ability many of those players showed in January somehow magically removed from them, never to be seen again?
Wolves may well lose to Reading tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a surprise given the league positions.
But equally, if they do not it won’t be as much of a surprise as many would have you believe, because underneath the mask of that five-game bad run remains a team who have proved their capability of sometimes winning games such as this.
For bookmakers, Wolves drawing or winning at the Madejski Stadium tomorrow will be something of a coupon-buster, because so many people bet with recent form in mind, without considering how complicated, and often misleading, this notion of form is.
If your friends who don’t bet tell you Manchester United are “certainties” this weekend because Bournemouth are so out of form, they’re entitled to that view and it is indeed very likely that they’ll win.
But as bettors, placing our hard-earned on the outcomes of matches in a way our non-bettor friends are not, we need to second guess every such comment.
Why is it Bournemouth are now out of form? Are there any valid reasons to believe they’re significantly worse than they were before Christmas?
Or is this just a bad run of results which will at some point turn and see them pick up the points they need to remain in the Premier League?
Most importantly, is both clubs’ recent form already factored into the price?
I can’t provide all of the answers – no one can, that’s why we all enjoy watching the games so much to find out how these stories end – but if there’s one piece of advice to take away it’s every time you hear the word form, challenge it in your head and do your best to ensure you’re not misled by it.
The league table lies
A typical conversation when meeting someone for the first time and trying to explain how betting for a living works will include them mentioning how interesting it sounds and how much more fun it must be than a 'normal' job.
Spending much of Tuesday as I did, trying to find out who would be playing in goal for Raith Rovers that evening after some breaking news that all three keepers in their squad were injured probably isn’t what they have in mind when forming their starry-eyed view of professional punting.
But such places are sometimes where the best bets can be found, so as uninteresting as it may seem, it’s vital to keep an eye on the lower grades.
And it’s down in the depths of those Scottish lower leagues we’ll stay for this week’s team for whom the league table isn’t telling the truth.
Stranraer sit ninth out of ten in Ladbrokes Scottish League One, three points off the bottom of the league. Having reached the playoff final last season and coming within a penalty shootout of reaching the Championship, that can only be seen as a big disappointment.
After a poor start, signs of a revival and performances much more in keeping with last year’s have been evident for a while now, however. Of the side from Stair Park’s last 11 games, they’ve won the shots-on-target count in nine of them.
While that guarantees nothing, consistent shots-on- target domination like this can often be an indicator of some better results being just around the corner, and to an extent that has happened.
The losses have dried up, but been replaced with plenty of draws. Their last five games have seen two wins, three draws and no defeats, and as so often happens with many draws, movement up the league table hasn’t yet occurred.
However, if the Blues continue playing the way they are, the most likely outcome is they will indeed climb into mid-table, and as ridiculous as it may sound for a team second-bottom in March, a late charge into the playoffs is far from unthinkable.
I’m confident the market is underestimating their chance of a win against Airdrie.
1pt 23-10 Paddy Power