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Growing trend of teams who do better when ahead

Wise words from the soccer boffin

Burnley manager Sean Dyche
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Brighton complete another round of Premier League fixtures on Monday at home to Stoke. In previous games they often proved typical of a growing subset of the Premier League.

The teams I am thinking about try to maximise the chance of keeping a clean sheet. If they do not concede they cannot lose. And while their opponents are trying to score – well, who knows, they might score themselves and win.

That is the best way to play if you think your opponents are better than you. And the teams I have in mind have smaller budgets than most Premier League opponents so they should expect them to be more skilful with the ball.

The interesting thing about these teams for gamblers is that when a goal has been scored they have done better in the rest of the game when they led 1-0 than when they trailed 1-0. Usually the opposite happens. It is as though the best chance of scoring for these teams is when their opponents still need to score – perhaps on a break or from a set piece after a break.

The Premier League manager most commonly associated with a 0-0/1-0 strategy is Tony Pulis. At West Brom, Crystal Palace and Stoke his teams have tended to feature in low-scoring games – win, draw or lose.

This season, however, seven Premier League teams have a lower goals per game ratio than West Bromwich's 2.3. They are, in descending order, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Newcastle (all 2.1), Brighton (2.0), Southampton (1.9), Swansea and Burnley (both 1.8).

I do not think Southampton have prioritised defence over attack. I think they tried hard to score but just could not get many goals. The same is probably true to a lesser extent of Newcastle. And Bournemouth’s games were low scoring only because they did not get as many goals as they usually do, which was not their intention and may have been bad luck, at least in part.

More from Kevin Pullein

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Next fixture plays part in determining how teams approach games

How other sports can teach us so much about football

I am left with, in alphabetical order, Brighton, Burnley, Huddersfield, Swansea and West Bromwich.

They scored first in half of their games where there was a goal, and there was not much difference in the average time of the first goal when they scored it and when they conceded it. But there was a big difference in what happened next.

After scoring the first goal they scored 50 per cent of all subsequent goals. After conceding the first goal they scored only 21 per cent of all subsequent goals.

When they scored first, obviously, they led by one goal. The goal difference at full time was the same in 46 per cent of those games, better in 23 per cent and worse in 31 per cent. When they conceded first, equally obviously, they trailed by one goal. The goal difference at full time was the same in 31 per cent of those games, better in 11 per cent and worse in 58 per cent.

Brighton, Burnley, Huddersfield, Swansea and West Brom did better in the rest of a game after they had gone in front than when they had fallen behind. And that is unusual. Normally teams are more likely to score the second goal if they trail 1-0 than if they lead 1-0.

This is because teams who fall behind tend to become more aggressive and push forward while teams who have gone in front tend to become more cautious and sit back. Teams who lead no longer need to score. They will win if they do not concede. Teams who trail will lose unless they score.

This season more teams than usual in more games than usual have felt that their best chance of scoring was when their opponents still needed to score, and they were probably right.

Decent defence is a more affordable commodity

Defence is easier than attack. Seventy-four out of every 75 attacks fail, which means that 74 out of every 75 defences succeed.

Because defence is easier than attack, decent defenders should be cheaper than decent attackers. There are more players capable of being decent defenders than there are capable of being decent attackers. And if you can put together a Premier League team with an average defence they are unlikely to be relegated even if the attack is awful.

Win rate for shot-shy teams is surprisingly high

Doncaster scored in the 62nd minute of a Sky Bet League One Yorkshire derby at home to Rotherham. It was another eight minutes before they had their first shot on target.

They scored from an own goal – Richard Wood turned a Rodney Kongolo cross into his own net. A team can score even when they are not attempting to score.

About three goals out of every 100 are classified as own goals – a category that also includes shots off target that are deflected into the net.

I have shot stats from the Premier and Football Leagues for more than 19 seasons. In that time more than 100 teams scored despite going through a whole match without having an attempt on target.

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If they do not concede they cannot lose. And while their opponents are trying to score – well, who knows, they might score themselves and win
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