Scatter graphics: League 2, 12 Sep 2016

With seven matches played the EFL is starting to take shape and – while there’s still plenty of time for things to change – it’s just about defensible for me to crank out some scatter graphics to see how teams are doing. Each of the four graphics is explained briefly below but there’s a longer explanation here.

I’ll make a few observations for each graphic and then provide a club-by-club round-up at the bottom of the post.

Shot dominance

First of all, here is how the number of shots taken by each club compares with those they face in return. The average number of shots taken per match is on the horizontal and the average number faced is on the vertical, so bottom right (take plenty, allow few in return) is good while top left (take few, allow plenty) is bad. The stripes are like contours: the greener the stripe, the better the performance (and vice versa for red).


In the bottom we can see that Portsmouth are the division’s most dominant team by far, firing in over 17 shots per match and allowing around six in return. Grimsby and Blackpool can match Pompey’s attacking output and Doncaster and Mansfield are as restrictive defensively, but none of these is managing both simultaneously.

Morecambe are a notable outlier at the top: the sheer number of shots they’ve faced makes their strong early form even more surprising.

Attacking effectiveness

Now let’s look at attacking alone. The horizontal axis stays the same as in the graphic above, but now the vertical shows the average number of shots needed to score each league goal. Therefore bottom right is good (taking lots of shots and needing fewer efforts to convert) and top left is bad:


There are plenty of clubs in the upper part of this graphic who are struggling to convert their chances so far: chief among them Yeovil but Cambridge, Barnet and Blackpool also stand out.

Hartlepool have scored in every match so far – although their opponents have too – and they are the division’s most clinical side, narrowly ahead of Stevenage. Their recent 6-1 defeat at Boro has no doubt boosted the latter’s numbers here.

Defensive effectiveness

Next let’s look at the defensive situation – basically take the above chart and replace the word “taken” for “faced” on both axes. Now top left is good – facing fewer shots and able to soak up more per goal conceded – and bottom right is bad:


Barnet‘s ultra-resilient defence is stretching the graphic here – they’ve soaked up a heroic 21 shots for each of the four goals they’ve conceded so far.

While Doncaster and Mansfield have restricted opponents to almost as few shots as Portsmouth, they have sometimes struggled to deal with the efforts that get through.

Expected goals

Finally here’s an attempt at correcting the first graphic for the quality of chances created and allowed, using the same “expected goals” values that power my shot timelines (explained here). The reason for doing this is that the results tend to correlate more strongly with performance than when we treat all shots equally:


Portsmouth still lead the way when we adjust for shot quality, with Doncaster and Luton the closest challengers.

Grimsby‘s strong attack is being somewhat undermined by their defence while Mansfield arguably have the opposite problem, with a tough defence coming at the expense of an attacking edge.

Morecambe and Wycombe are running the most concerning “deficits” so far, conceding chances of around twice the quality that they create. Both could find themselves in trouble if things don’t improve, although the Shrimps’ strong start has provided a welcome buffer.

Club-by-club summary

Accrington don’t look like repeating last season’s impressive promotion tilt as it stands, although they still seem to have enough about them to finish in mid-table.

Barnet games have seen plenty of shots – over 28 per match – but relatively few goals. Overall they look to be performing well, so there’s a good chance that they’ll be the primary benefactors once the goals start flowing.

Blackpool have looked like one of the division’s better attacking teams so far but could have scored more if their finishing had been more reliable. However a resolute defence has compensated somewhat.

Cambridge‘s attack seems to be the bigger problem – struggling for both quantity and quality – although they have been below par at both ends of the pitch so far.

Carlisle appear capable of a play-off push on the evidence so far, having impressed at both ends of the pitch and remaining unbeaten. Some slightly sharper finishing could well have turned a few of their five draws into wins though.

Cheltenham‘s defence has adapted to life back at this level better than their attack, which has created fewer chances than anyone else so far. At the back they’ve looked solid, which could buy them time to sort things out further forward.

Colchester have looked solid so far but may need to improve to keep pace with the teams at the top. Some sharp finishing has helped them so far – only two teams have been more clinical – but they risk being outgunned in the long run.

Crawley have performed similarly to Cambridge so far, although both their attack and defence have performed more reliably. However improvements will be needed to steer clear of the danger zone.

Crewe‘s league position appears to owe more to an organised defence than their slightly quiet attack, so they may need more adventurous play to stay in the hunt for an immediate return to League 1.

Doncaster have looked impressive so far and on course for a quick return to the division above. While their defence has looked leaky, they allow opponents so few shots that it may turn out not be an issue.

Exeter have been far from inspiring but look better than their (currently precarious) league position suggests. Finishing has been their biggest problem so far, with only four sides more wasteful.

Grimsby‘s attack has adjusted well to the step up, with few teams looking more dangerous going forward, but they’ve tended to leave themselves open at the back.

Hartlepool have also seen the goals flow at both ends, although their balance is less healthy than the Mariners’. They’re the division’s most clinical finishers but few sides have taken fewer shots, plus only Doncaster have soaked up fewer efforts per goal conceded.

Leyton Orient are another club whose above average attack could find itself undermined by events behind them. Only five clubs have allowed opponents better chances so far, so some tightening up may be required to sustain a promotion challenge.

Luton have looked strong at both ends: the Hatters are among the division’s best attacking sides and their defence, while not outstanding, has been among the most resilient.

Mansfield have looked far more assured at the back than up top, allowing opponents impressively few opportunities but putting in some below-average performances further forward.

Morecambe topped the table early on thanks to some formidable defending but that bubble looks to have burst. They’ve allowed far more shots than anyone else and will surely sink further without a change of approach.

Newport have been the division’s least impressive side going forward and only two have been worse at the back, so could well find themselves in trouble without some improvements.

Notts County are performing at a similar level to Colchester so far and look pretty solid. A leaky defence has let them down so far – they’ve conceded first in every match – but this looks at least in part down to bad luck.

Plymouth sit atop the table despite some relatively underwhelming performances overall. Just like last season their defence has soaked up lots of punishment and looks to be compensating for a modest attack.

Portsmouth are the star performers so far, with some wasteful finishing the only blot on their copy book. The sheer extent to which they’re dominating matches looks unsustainable, but a modest decline would still leave them a force to be reckoned with.

Stevenage have allowed opponents more shots than anyone except Morecambe but have cancelled this out with some clinical finishing. Their big 6-1 win over Hartlepool will be skewing their average at this early stage though, so there’s no room for complacency.

Wycombe look to be having difficulties at both ends of the pitch, particularly once shots have been adjusted for quality. Like Morecambe, they’ve allowed roughly twice the quality of chances than they’ve created but unlike the Shrimps don’t have a points cushion to fall back on.

Yeovil are hovering near the average on three of the four graphics, suggesting that they should avoid a repeat of last season’s relegation scare. However this depends on how quickly their finishing improves: it’s the worst in the division so far with over 16 shots taken per goal scored.

I’m aiming to repeat this exercise for the other two divisions later this week – first League 1 and then the Championship once their respective midweek fixtures are out of the way.