Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Football League - The Gap in Points

Mind the Gap

While the final day in the Premier League didn’t carry the same drama as previous seasons with most issues wrapped up long before the end of May, the same cannot be levelled at the Football League. Whether it was the drama at Vicarage Road/KC Stadium that saw Watford fall at the final hurdle, the amazing scenes as Brentford missed a penalty and Doncaster raced away to score a last minute winner or Barnet’s heartbreak at being relegated after a string of results went against them.

The main point I wanted to look at was the unbelievably high number of points needed to survive in the Championship, indeed with only a handful of games of the season left some teams were within touching distance from both the play offs and the relegation zone.

Peterborough ended up being relegated with a record number of points from the 2ndtier since the switch to 3 points for a win and this was only confirmed on the final minute of the final day of the season. Given this I decided to take a look at how the number of points in various positions compared with previous seasons.

The graphs below would look much better in Tableu – unfortunately I have a Mac so they are done in Excel!

The following graph shows the points achieved for each position of significance along with the average needed for the last 15 seasons.

Difference in Points for the Championship (click to enlarge)

Points to note
  • The gap between the final Play-off position and the final relegation place was the smallest it has been in the data I have gathered – just 14 points between 6th and 22nd
  • Bristol City finished well adrift of safety, actually joint 5th highest in the data gathered. However they got the 2nd highest points for a bottom placed team – and would have actually stayed up the previous season.
  • Cardiff City finished top with the 2nd lowest amount of points needed to win the Championship. However, they were close to the average number of points between top and 6th (the last play-off spot). This was because the last play-off spot was the lowest in the recorded data – 6 points below the average needed.
  • The information means the division was very even last season, the teams at the top didn’t run away with it and the teams at the bottom were not adrift. The topsy turvy nature is perhaps best highlighted by Peterborough United (who finished 22nd) doing the double over Cardiff City (who finished top)
  • The average number of points needed for the last play-off spot is very consistent over the last 15 years. 12 of the 15 teams finishing 6th had a total of between 73 & 76 points
  • 2007/08 and 2012/13 were both very close in terms of the number of points between the last relegated team and the last team making the play offs, with 2007/08 being the year with the least number of points between top and bottom (43)

Difference in Points for League One (Click to Enlarge)

  • Doncaster Rovers, who finished top in 2012/13, achieved less points than the average number needed to get automatic promotion. Only once has there been a tighter division for the gap between top and bottom than the 52 points in 2012/13 (an unbelievable 35 points in 2005/06)
  • In 2010/11 and 2011/12 the gap between bottom and safety was extremely tight just 5 and 6 points respectively separated the teams.
  • The last relegation spot is very consistent, for 10 of the last 11 seasons it has been within 3 points of the average of 48 points.

Difference in Points for League Two (Click to Enlarge)

  •  The average for the Top spot is lower than the other 2 divisions (89 in League Two, 94 in Championship & League One)
  • Again all 3 promotion spots (top, automatic, play offs) was lower than the average needed meaning it was much more equal throughout the division
  • Barnet can consider themselves very unlucky to have been relegated with the highest number of points from the data (2nd relegation place was only introduced in 2002/03)
  • Aldershot achieved 48 points which is a higher total than the average normally to survive (44 points) and was the joint highest amount for a team that finished bottom.
  • The gap between the play offs and relegation was much smaller than normal (18 points compared to the average of 28) with only 1 season having a tighter margin (2005/06)


  • 2012/13 was much tighter across all 3 divisions than normal, the promoted teams scored less points and the relegated teams more points than usual.
  • 2012/13 had the highest number of points needed to survive in the Championship and League Two for any of the 15 years I have data for.
  • 2012/13 had the lowest number of points needed to gain automatic promotion from Championship and League Two and the third lowest from League One
  • The data indicates that 2012/13 was a one off and not a continuation of a sloping trend towards tighter divisions. There is no expectation that 2013/14 will be just as tight
  • There is some correlation between divisions being tight at the same time. For example 2012/13 was in the top 3 of the 15 seasons in terms of the number of points between top and bottom in all 3 divisions. 2010/11 was in the top 5.
  • 6 of the last 7 seasons in the Championship had been the closest between top and bottom in the data set. At least at this level the gap has narrowed considerably.