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In my annual look back on the playoffs, I’ve added things, gradually making it a fairly comprehensive cover of what goes on in the playoffs historically which points (as much as these things ever do) to what you might expect to see this time around. As a result of doing it annually, I’ve got a fairly decent database of playoff games logged, including what these meant at each time; the ‘what to expect in the second leg’ is generally more potent than the first, then. That said, there’s a first time for everything. This post, then, the first in a series of (potentially) 9, is about the first leg of the fourth tier playoffs – the games that pit 4th to 7th in League Two against one another.

The first thing is ‘Who’s going to win the first leg?’

Well, this is an interesting one – here’s a league table of first legs and it doesn’t read how you might expect. The fourth ranked team (York, in this season’s case) have exactly the same WDL record as the third, only the game between 4 and 1 is tighter than that between 2 and 3.

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The only reason I can think for that is fear. The home team knows they can’t afford to lose, so look to keep it tight. In doing so, they take a little away from their attacking prowess. This isn’t just a one-off, either – the difference between the 4v1 and 3v2 match ups is 17 goals (69 v 52), so its been going on for a while.

In truth, neither game produces a lot of goals, as evidenced by the graph of goals scored in the first legs – very heavily bunched around one and two goals.

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That said, there’s outliers to every statistic, so here’s a table of highest and lowest goal tallies in each; the team that qualified is highlighted in red in a way that almost specifically gives lie to the phrase ‘you can’t win it in the first leg, but you can lose it’, by proving you can win it in the first leg if you’re at home if you score loads of goals, while you can just as easily lose it by drawing 0-0.

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Two graphs to that end? It’s the qualifying figures (for both games) according to how many goals the home team first scored….

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….and then conceded. Is it a surprise that the best thing you can do, as a first leg team, is win 1-0 or 2-0? It shouldn’t be, really.

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I can add a little more here, given that we have some points differentials from the league season. The important thing here is that the league table doesn’t matter. Here’s a list of all the times teams have been ten or more points apart and met in the playoffs – a crap-shoot, either way. Interestingly, Fleetwood face York, who finished five points behind them – that’s a differential we’ve never seen in Tier 4 playoffs before. The two teams who finished level, Southend and Burton, are the seventh such pairing. History favours the away team 4-2 at this point – we’ve not had 72 points before, just 67, 70, 73, 75, 75 and 79.

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So, what does this all suggest?

The game between Southend and Burton will produce more goals than that between York and Fleetwood.
If either game finishes 0-0, the away side have got a huge advantage Its easier to call the winner of the Fleetwood v. York tie than the other; and will be even moreso if York fail to win the first leg

Oh, and if you want a flag nailed to a mast, “Come on you Minstermen!”

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