League 2 previews, 24 Sep 2016

This weekend I’m restarting my regular preview graphics for each EFL match, which were a regular feature last season.

These smash together minimalist versions of two visualisations: each club’s E Ratings and their relative positions on the attack and defence scatter graphics. I’ve explained them fully here, but in summary they’re intended as a simple pre-match comparison of two teams using high-level performance data. The graphic has three sections:

  1. The current ratings (with ranks) of the two teams and how these have changed over the past 30 league matches;
  2. A probability forecast for the match;
  3. Scatter graphics showing the teams’ attacking and defensive performance this season.


Carlisle have made progress at both ends of the pitch and look like play-off contenders as it stands, with one of the division’s strongest attacks compensating for a defence which is still improving. Visitors Wycombe were the opposite for much of the last few seasons – their strong defence made up for a quiet attack – but now the Chairboys’ defensive strength looks to be deserting them too.

A much-changed Accrington are still performing at an encouragingly similar level to last season, albeit with a greater investment in defence than attack, making this contest likely to be a close one. Colchester’s clinical finishing has been their main asset so far, so it will be interesting to see what they can do against a leaky away defence.

Both of these clubs look to be rehabilitating after their respective relegations last season and – while neither is yet performing at a level suggesting that they’ll bounce straight back to League 1 – each should have far more to cheer this time around. Stylistically they’re very different however, with Crewe’s relatively patient approach contrasting to Blackpool’s gung ho attacking style. Despite taking almost seven more shots per match, the visitors have scored one goal fewer than their hosts due to some wasteful finishing, so they may require a more focused display to prevail against one of the division’s tighter defences.

Two of the division’s most dangerous attacks meet here, with their differing defensive approaches likely to determine the victor. Luton have relied on resilience rather than prevention to keep opponents out so far, while Doncaster have made it difficult to get shots away against them at all. The visitors’ all-round performances make them the more convincing side on paper, but this will surely be a close game.

Grimsby have been attacking fearlessly since their return to the EFL but this looks to have come at the cost of defensive solidity. Mansfield are in the opposite camp, with a deteriorating attack bolstered by a tough defence (perhaps a “safety first” philosophy). This has resulted in goals being scored at over twice the rate in Mariners games than those involving the Stags (29 to 14 so far), making this an intriguing match-up.

The division’s two lowest-rated teams meet here, with both having seen their performances deteriorate further since last season. The sheer amount of chances allowed by Morecambe is eye-watering, although they’re hosting the division’s quietest attack and therefore may have more breathing space than they’ve been used to.

Bottom side Cambridge look to have been unlucky so far – particularly up front where their finishing has been the division’s most wasteful – and will see this as a winnable game. Newport are one of the lowest-rated sides and appear not to have turned things around since last season.

Notts County have remained worryingly open at the back – a hangover from last season – while visitors Orient have themselves looked far less solid defensively in recent months. With both teams’ attacks still looking more respectable, there could well be goals in this one.

Plymouth have a lot to thank their defence for this season, having topped the table despite scoring fewer goals than 17th-placed Hartlepool. The visitors have taken marginally fewer shots than the Pilgrims but have been incredibly clinical with them, so it will be interesting to see how they fare here. The odds are heavily in the home side’s favour although -like all matches at this point – last season’s showing still has a significant influence.

Portsmouth are the division’s most impressive performers overall so this will be a big test of just how much Barnet have improved this season. The Bees’ ratings are on the rise – which has perhaps masked by some wasteful finishing – although some incredibly resilient defending has suppressed the number of goals conceded too. The hosts haven’t had the best of luck in front of goal themselves, but this looks like a good chance to resume normal service.

These two have had contrasting fortunes up front: Stevenage are among the division’s most clinical finishers (a stat skewed by their 6-1 hammering of Hartlepool) while Exeter have been one of the most wasteful teams in front of goal. Both have looked suspect at the back so far, with the number of shots allowed by the hosts surely a source of encouragement for the Grecians.

Cheltenham look capable of sitting a lot higher in the table than they currently are, with a relatively quiet attack being compensated for by a tough defence. Yeovil’s attack – rated the worst in the division and having some lousy luck in front of goal – will have a tough job breaking their visitors down.