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Monday, 21 January, 2019

Terriers out to prove that points make the difference

The Soccer Boffin with his weekly dose of betting wisdom

Huddersfield have made the most of the goals they have scored this season
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Huddersfield could be the first team promoted to the top division of English football with a negative goal difference. 

Despite conceding two goals more than they scored they finished fifth in the Sky Bet Championship, and on Monday they appear in the playoff final.

In fact, Huddersfield would be the first team with a minus goal difference ever to be promoted from any division of the Football League.

Opponents Reading scored only four goals more than they conceded and finished third in the Championship. So whatever happens at Wembley a record will be set. Previously no team had been promoted to the top division with a goal difference worse than plus six.

Having a low goal difference with a high number of points might be a sign of efficiency.

Often the team must have scored goals that mattered and conceded goals that did not matter.

Or it might be an indication of good fortune. Over the season perhaps they just happened to score and concede in games and at times that proved unusually advantageous. So which is it? 

Either Huddersfield or Reading will join already-promoted Brighton and Newcastle in next season’s Premier League.

Champions Newcastle won 94 points, runners-up Brighton 93, Reading 85 and Huddersfield 81.Newcastle’s goal difference was +45 and Brighton’s +34. What should we expect of them in the Premier League?

Promoted teams in the past did better than many people seem to think. Over the last 22 seasons they averaged 39 points and 15th place. Only 29 out of 65 were relegated – 45 per cent.

And there is no evidence that the gap between the Championship and the Premier League is widening, even though many people seem convinced that it is. Overall promoted teams did as well in the last 11 seasons as they did in the first 11.

I investigated possible predictors of Premier League performance, starting with Championship points and goal difference.

I identified every team promoted from the Championship in the 22 seasons from 1994-95 to 2015-16 – teams who featured in the Premier League in the 22 seasons 1995-96 to 2016-17. All those teams played 46 games in the Championship and 38 in the Premier League.

Championship points proved a decent predictor of Premier League points, but not as good as Championship goals for and against. In this situation, at least, goals scored and conceded revealed more about ability than games won, drawn and lost.

If one team scored more than another in the Championship they were likely to score more in the Premier League as well. If they conceded fewer in the Championship they were likely to concede fewer in the Premier League as well.

Based only on goals scored and conceded this season in the Championship what would be my expectations for next season in the Premier League? Newcastle 42 points, Brighton 39 and Reading 35 or Huddersfield 33.

There was, however, an even better predictor of Premier League performance than what players did in the Championship – what they were paid in the Premier League.

Correlation is a statistic that measures the strength of a relationship between two things. A positive correlation means a rise in one thing tends to be associated with a rise in the other, and is indicated by a number greater than nought but no greater than one.

The higher a number within that range the stronger the positive correlation. I calculated the correlation with Premier League points for Championship points, Championship goals for and against and Premier League wages.

It was 0.13 for Championship points, 0.29 for Championship goals for and against and 0.46 for Premier League wages. These calculations covered Premier League seasons 2000-01 to 2015-16, the only 16 for which I have audited accounts.

Among promoted teams the highest wage bill was more than three times as big as the lowest, after allowing for inflation, as I will be for the next comparisons as well. So there was quite a bit of variation.

The six promoted teams with the lowest payrolls averaged 28 points and 19th place. All were relegated. The six promoted teams with the highest payrolls averaged 46 points and 12th place. None were relegated.

We cannot know for sure what Newcastle, Brighton, Reading or Huddersfield might pay in the Premier League. I made what I hope is an educated guess.

I considered what Brighton, Reading and Huddersfield have been paying in the Championship and how it compares with the payrolls of teams promoted in the past, and also what Newcastle paid when they were in the Premier League before.

Based only on my estimate of how much they might pay, what would be my expectations for promoted clubs next season in the Premier League? Newcastle 44 points, Brighton 37 and Reading something similar – I found them hardest to project – or Huddersfield 33.

In the most recent audited accounts Huddersfield’s wage bill was less than half the size of Brighton’s and Reading’s and about one-sixth the size of Newcastle’s. For that reason too it is surprising as well as delightful to find them within one game of promotion to the Premier League.

Tottenham so unlucky

Tottenham were the unluckiest team in the Premier League. They finished second with 86 points and a goal difference of +60.

Previously only two teams had reached 86 points in a 38-game Premier League season and not won the title. Liverpool were runners-up in 2009 with 86 points, as were Manchester United in 2012 with 89 points. No team had amassed a goal difference of +60 or more and not won the title.

Part of the reason that Tottenham did not lift the trophy despite having so many points and such a good goal difference is that early in the season there were many contenders. That raised the chance of at least one of them kicking on.

On the morning of Saturday, November 5, 2016, three points covered five teams. Arsene Wenger had said the title would be won with between 82 and 86 points. Claudio Ranieri had said fewer. I suggested a higher total was the most likely.

I wrote: “I estimate there is a 13 per cent chance the Premier League will be won with fewer than 82 points, a 40 per cent chance of between 82 and 86 and a 47 per cent chance of more than 86.

“I also estimate there is a 23 per cent chance the champions will accumulate 90 points or more. It is so high because there are so many plausible challengers.”

Chelsea had then won four of what became 13 games in a row. Eventually they accumulated 93 points. Tottenham at one stage won nine games in a row, which became 12 out of 13, but that was not enough.

I am not saying my estimates were right. There is no way of telling. Of the general point, though, I am fairly sure.

When there are lots of contenders early in a season, higher than average points may be needed to win. Some teams might slow down, but others could speed up.

Tottenham finished second with 86 points. The average total of the title-winners in previous 38-game seasons of the Premier League
is 85.


Having a low goal difference with a high number of points might be a sign of efficiency
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