League table “footprints”, 2015/16

I’ve been pushing a fair few complex stats this season, so for a change of pace I thought I’d take a look at something much simpler. As part of PA’s coverage of Leicester’s title-winning season I built a tool which takes a list of results for a given division and tells you how the league table looked at the end of each day, so I thought it would be interesting to run it on the Football League and National League.

I’ve stuck the results in a simple matrix for each division, along with a few illustrative observations. These work as follows:

• The clubs are listed down the side, in the order they finished in the final league table
• Each row shows how many days that club spent in each league position
• The season is considered to run from the date of the first match of the season to the date of the last and excludes the play-offs
• I’ve used lines in both directions to indicate the automatic promotion places, the play-off zone, the division between top and bottom half and finally the relegation zone
• There are also fainter outlines around each club’s final league position

The idea of this is that you can see the “footprint” that each club left in the table this season. Some stayed up one end, others bounced around a lot more etc. This isn’t supposed to anything particularly profound, but when I ran it I was surprised to see how much time certain clubs spent quite a long way from their final position and how far most travelled over the course of the season.

Championship

To use the first cell as an example, Burnley spent a total of 57 days in top spot and reading across the rest of their row we can see that they spent one solitary day in 21st place. Interestingly, Middlesbrough spent one fewer day at the summit (56) and Hull one fewer than that (55). You can understand Brighton’s frustration at missing out on automatic promotion on the final day, seeing as they led the division for longer than anyone else.

The Seagulls never fell below seventh all season, which is the highest “lowest place” of any club in the division this season. They were one of only two clubs – the other being Birmingham – who managed to stay in the top half all season. The latter’s final place was actually the lowest they sat in the entire campaign. There were also just two clubs who never set foot in the top half this season: Bristol City and Rotherham.

League 1

Both Coventry and Gillingham spent a significant amount of time in the automatic promotion places but were unable to secure a play-off finish. This season was particularly harsh on the Gills, who only dropped to ninth on the final day and were one of only two clubs – the other being Burton – not to set foot in the bottom half. The latter only spent three days outside the top six.

Scunthorpe and Barnsley provided some late drama in the play-off race and both ended up doing a “reverse Gillingham” i.e. finishing the season in the highest position that they occupied during it.

At the other end of the table, poor Crewe only spent a combined total of two weeks outside the bottom three all season, with Shrewsbury the only other club not to venture into the top half.

League 2

Champions Northampton only spent one week outside the top half all season, with fellow promotees Oxford also spending just 10 days in the bottom 12. However two of the clubs they usurped to claim automatic promotion – Plymouth and Portsmouth – were the only sides not to experience life in the bottom half at all; they only spent a combined 11 days outside the top seven.

Wycombe almost joined the aforementioned duo in having been exclusively a top half team this season, but slipped into 13th on the final day. Unlike the previous two divisions there were plenty of clubs to have never ventured north of 13th place: fully half of the bottom 12 clubs never ventured this high, with relegated Dagenham & Redbridge unable to even break out of the bottom five.

National League

Top spot was almost exclusively monopolised by the final top two of Cheltenham and Forest Green, who collectively occupied it for all but seven days of the season when Eastleigh kept it warm. Rovers and the Spitfires were two of only four teams – the others being Grimsby and Tranmere – not to have spent a single day in the bottom half of the table. Impressively, Forest Green only spent seven days outside the top two.

There were three clubs who weren’t seen in the top half of the table, two of whom – Halifax and Altrincham – ended up being relegated, with the Shaymen unable to move more than two places away from the danger zone. The third, Southport, spent plenty of time in the bottom four but ultimately secured enough points to survive.

EDIT: I spotted a small bug with how the tool sorted tables at the very start of the season, when lots of teams had identical records and alphabetical order is used as a decider, which I’ve since fixed and updated the graphics. This means that there are a few tiny differences but none that affect the original observations.

Also, there was a lot of interest in a Premier League version:

Despite being the last team able to challenge Leicester for the title, Tottenham never sat in top spot this season. Poor Man City spent 100 days at the summit and only three days outside the top four, but now face a battle to secure Champions League qualification.

Despite the ongoing criticism of their performances, Man Utd are the only club to have spent the entire season in the top seven. Only they and Leicester have avoided setting foot in the bottom half this season.

Sunderland may have escaped relegation but they never sat higher than their current 17th place for the entire campaign. They are also the only club not to have ventured into the top half, although Bournemouth spent a solitary day there.