Conference Premier: the first 10 games
As the Conference Premier reached the 10 game mark yesterday evening, I though it’d be worth looking at the data to see how each club has performed so far. Up front I need to admit that I haven’t watched much Conference football so far this season, so apologies for any naive interpretations from the data.
I’ve got a few graphics to show you, then I’ll rattle through the most interesting stats for each club in alphabetical order. The club-by-club section will also give commentary on the graphics themselves, to avoid repeating myself.
First off, let’s take a more visual look at the league table, which like all graphics can be clicked on to open a full-sized version in a new tab. This is my interpretation of the insufficiently-famous Cann table, which allows you to see the spread of teams in the division much more clearly than a standard league table. You can see how clustered the division is at the top, and how far adrift Telford currently are at the bottom.
Now let’s look at some more detailed numbers, starting with attack and defence activity. This shows the extent to which teams have dominated their matches overall, with more shots taken per match as you move left to right and more shots faced as you move up, so it’s best to be in the bottom right.
Now let’s look at attack in more detail, keeping the horizontal axis the same but looking at the average number of shots it takes to score each goal on the vertical. Again, bottom right is good, as clubs here are taking lots of shots and not needing many attempts to find the net.
Now let’s look at defensive effectiveness by replacing “shots taken” on both axes with “shots faced”. Now clubs should aspire to be in the top left: facing a low number of shots and being able to withstand a high number of shots for each goal conceded:
As promised, below I’ve summarised the most interesting (to me, at least) stats on each club so far:
Aldershot – The Shots have ironically had fewer attempts at goal than any side in the division so far, mustering an average of 6.8 per game in a division where 10 is more usual. They’re one of only two teams not to have scored from inside the 6 yard box and also one of two not to have scored a header, which is strange for a team with two 6’2” strikers in their ranks. At the back, they need to handle long-range shots better, having conceded the joint-most goals (5) from outside the area.
Alfreton – It’s been a meek start from Alfreton, with only Aldershot creating fewer chances and only Lincoln allowing more attempts at their own goal. They’re also the only side yet to have created a chance inside the 6 yard box, and as a result are one of only two teams not to have netted from this distance so far. Headers have proved tricky for their defence to deal with – the 7 they’ve conceded so far is the division’s highest.
Altrincham – Despite being a newly-promoted side, Altrincham have played positively this season, with only four sides having created more chances so far. Unfortunately only four sides have been more wasteful in converting shots into goals, partly due to their fondness for shooting early: no team in the division has taken a greater share of shots from outside the box than their 62%. There are also problems at the back, again with only four clubs worse at keeping shots out so far, and as a result they remain one of three teams yet to register a clean sheet.
Barnet – The current league leaders have fired their way to the top with the division’s second most clinical attack – only Eastleigh have needed fewer shots to score each goal. They’ve started positively, having the first shot on goal in 8 of their 10 matches (the most in the division) and as a result have spent more time leading (471 minutes) than any other side. They’re also one of only three teams not to have dropped any points after scoring first. A potential weakness is high balls – no team has conceded a higher share of goals from headers than their 67%.
Braintree – Braintree have been the division’s long-range specialists so far, netting more goals than anyone else from outside the box (5). They’ve needed an average of just 9.2 attempts to score from this distance, which is the division’s lowest ad less than half the average of 19.9. They’re also the only side not to have drawn a match.
Bristol Rovers – After a poor start to life in the Conference in which they only won 1 of their first 5 matches, things look to be picking up for Rovers. Their uncertain start was partially due to an unsettled side – they made at least four changes in each of their first four matches and are still the only team to have fielded a starting eleven with less than half of the players who started the previous match. They appear to have adopted a direct style, taking a higher proportion of shots from headers (34%) than any other side in the league.
Chester – It’s been a frustrating start for Chester who, despite creating a respectable amount of chances, have needed more shots to score each goal on average than every side except Nuneaton. The frustration extends to the defence, which has conceded the most penalties in the division (3). It’s seldom been boring so far though, with them spending less time drawing than any other team: just 281 of the 961 minutes they’ve spent on the pitch so far.
Dartford – Dartford have been on the back foot much of the time so far, having created fewer chances than every side except Aldershot and allowed more attempts at their goal than all but two other teams. They’ve been slow starters too, and are now the only side not to have scored a goal in the first half this season. Squad depth may be an issue: they’ve used the joint-fewest players (16) of any side in the division.
Dover – Dover’s defence have yet to adapt to life in a higher division, with the average of 4.5 shots faced per goal conceded the second worst in the division after bottom side Telford. As a result they remain one of three sides without a clean sheet and have conceded more goals from inside their 6 yard box (7) than anyone else. Things aren’t much better in attack where only three sides have been more wasteful, and the net result is that no team has spent less time in winning positions than their 87 minutes.
Eastleigh – The Conference South champions have made a purposeful start to their first season at this level, boasting the division’s most clinical attack. They’ve needed just under 5 shots to score each goal on average so far, although unfortunately the ball has been finding its way into their net just as easily. Despite restricting their opponents to fewer chances than anyone except Woking and Halifax, their defence has let in a greater percentage of shots than all but two other sides.
Forest Green – Forest Green appear to be focused on getting the ball into good positions before shooting: no side has taken a smaller share of shots from outside the area than their 34%. Their opponents have no such concerns, inflicting the division’s second highest percentage of long range goals (38%). Rovers have kept faith with the joint-lowest number of players this season, with just 16 having turned out for them in the league so far.
Gateshead – Last season’s beaten play-off finalists have dusted themselves off to challenge again, and are the only team to have scored in every league game this season. Their attack has been the division’s third most clinical, needing an average of just 5.5 shots to score each goal, and they’ve been particularly dangerous in the air with 7 headed goals so far: the most in the division. They’ve also been the cleanest side so far, committing just 71 fouls.
Grimsby – Currently residing in the bottom half, albeit with the division’s fourth best goal difference, Grimsby need a change in fortunes if they’re to repeat last season’s play-off finish. There’s certainly not much wrong up front: they’ve taken more shots than anyone except Torquay – the only side to beat them at home this season – and they’re the only team to have scored at least a goal per game both home and away.
Halifax – Halifax have been dominant this season – creating more chances than anyone except Torquay and allowing fewer in return than anyone except Woking. Goals have come easily so far: they’ve only failed to score once and have netted three or more goals in four of their ten games so far: more than any other side. They’re also the only side not to have conceded a goal from outside the box. All this has been managed with a small core of players: the 16 they’ve used so far is the division’s joint-fewest.
Kidderminster – While Kidderminster have tended to take games to their opponents, their defence has performed much more reliably than their attack, with only Torquay and Macclesfield able to withstand more shots for each goal conceded. Whipping high balls in close appears the most reliable way to breach them, with no team having conceded a higher share of headers or from inside their 6 yard box (both 67%). Their matches have often been low on goals, though, with only 2 of their 10 games seeing both teams score.
Lincoln – The division’s busiest defence so far, Lincoln have faced an average of 14.5 shots per match and only the bottom two teams have conceded more goals. They’re the division’s most adept side at close range finishing though – nobody’s scored more goals from inside the 6 yard box than their tally of 6. Their defence could do better at policing this area though, having faced more shots than anyone else from this distance (16).
Macclesfield – Macclesfield have spent much of this season on the back foot, with only 3 teams creating fewer chances, but their defence – the division’s second most resilient – withstanding an average of 15.1 shots for each goal conceded. Goals have been rare so far, with no team’s matches seeing fewer than their average of 1.8 per match. They’ve also spent more time drawing than any other team (572 minutes).
Nuneaton – Fixing the attack has to be the priority for Nuneaton: they’re the most profligate side in the division with 15 shots required to score each goal so far. As a result they’re the lowest scorers with just 5 goals to their name and have failed to score in more matches (6) than any other team. 3 of the 5 goals they have scored have arrived from headers, making them more reliant on the aerial route to goal than any other team.
Southport – The performance of Southport’s attack is marginally more concerning than their defence, being the division’s third most wasteful with 10.9 shots required to score each goal on average. They’ve been heavily reliant on getting the ball in close, with fully half of their goals being converted from inside the 6 yard box – the highest percentage of any team. They’ve tended to start slowly though, having the first shot in just 2 of their 10 matches – the lowest in the division.
Telford – The only winless side and bottom of the table, Telford’s return to this level hasn’t gone well so far. They have the division’s least resilient defence – breached every 4.4 shots on average – and have conceded 3 or more goals in half their games so far (more than any other side). They’ve been particularly vulnerable to long range shots, having conceded the most goals (5) from outside the area and have spent more time in losing positions than any other club (488 minutes).
Torquay – After an uncertain start, Torquay look to be challenging for an immediate return to the Football League. No team has created as many chances as their average of 14 per match and they’ve been strong at the back too. Their defence has been the division’s most resilient, soaking up 20 shots for every goal conceded, resulting in them keeping more clean sheets – 7 – than any other side and having spent the least time – 97 minutes – in losing positions. They need to watch the fouls though – nobody has committed more than their 125 and a few suspensions could ultimately derail their promotion bid.
Welling – Welling have eschewed the aerial route this season – they’ve only attempted 5 headers at goal so far, which is four times lower than the divisional average and half as many as the next least header-friendly side. As a result they’re one of only two clubs not to have scored a headed goal yet. The only side not to have picked up an away point, they’re still unbeaten at home. Their poor start may be partly due to an unsettled squad: the 24 players they’ve used so far is the most in the division.
Woking – Woking’s strong start has been based on a reliable defence, which has allowed their opponents fewer chances per match – an average of 7.1 – than any other side. They’re also the only club yet to have conceded more than one goal in any of their matches and the only one not to have dropped any points from winning positions.
Wrexham – The Welsh side have fared well when they’ve scored first: they’re one of three teams not to have dropped any points after netting the opener. Some credit must go to a well-organised defence that has permitted fewer shots than all but four other sides. Building on leads has proved trickier however – all six of their wins have been by a single goal.
And finally … a short survey
Lately I’ve been running an experimental survey on how fans feel about the clubs in the top five English divisions, but Conference fans have been somewhat under-represented so far. If you’ve got a few minutes (admittedly less likely than it would have been before you read all of the above), I’d be very grateful if you filled it out. At the end there’s a link to a summary of how people have been responding so far if you’re curious: