League 2 weekend review, 15 Oct 2016

This is my first attempt at a more comprehensive review of a round of matches, as I’ve felt for a while that I could do more to make the various post-match numbers and graphics I chuck out more coherent. In here you’ll find the match timelines, E Ratings and probabilities, plus a few more bits and pieces to string the whole thing together.

Round summary

I’ll kick things off with a new graphic. It’s explained in full here but in a nutshell I’ve dropped each match onto a grid based on:

  1. How surprising the outcome of the match was, based on pre-match expectations (further left = more surprising, further right = less surprising);
  2. How “deserved” the outcome was, based on how likely the balance of chances created during the match would be to produce that result (higher = more deserved, lower = less deserved).

The point of doing this is to compare games by how surprising (or not) they were, both in terms of how the teams have been performing so far and how they performed on the day:

l2-outcomes-2016-10-15

At the very top we have Exeter‘s win at Barnet, which didn’t look all that likely before kick-off (as per the horizontal axis, the Grecians had just under a one in three chance of winning) but a dominant display makes it look the most deserved result of the weekend (as per their high value on the vertical). We’ll look at each match in more detail below.

Yeovil‘s narrow win over Newport also looked more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, with the balance of chances in that match 60% likely to have ended in a Glovers win.

Despite being deemed relatively likely to leave Morecambe with three points, Stevenage made heavy work of the task and look to have been fortunate to have left the Globe Arena with anything.

If you want to read a bit more about how the E Ratings model generated the probabilities on the horizontal axis, the previews for these games can be found here.

Match-by-match summary

Now let’s look at each match in a bit more detail using the match timelines, which show the combined quality of the chances that each team created and how these increased during the game. They’re explained in more detail here:

2016-10-15-accrington-blackpool

Accrington started terribly here – not even taking a shot during the first half an hour – but sprang into life at the death after conceding a late opener from Blackpool to snatch a win that they just about deserved overall. Stanley have so far maintained much of last season’s momentum but were definitely given a scare today.2016-10-15-barnet-exeter

Exeter’s attack has been underachieving for most of the season so far – despite some generally decent performances – so they were overdue a big scoreline. Hosts Barnet were unable to build on their early lead and collapsed after half time, offering little in response.2016-10-15-cambridge-grimsby

This looks like the cliched game of two halves, with Cambridge almost completely anonymous in the first half but leaving Grimsby in their dust after the interval. However despite out-creating the Mariners overall they were unable to find the equaliser that their overall play looks to have deserved.2016-10-15-carlisle-hartlepool

I’m happy that the E Ratings correctly flagged this match as being the most likely source of goals, although it seems to have been more a case of clinical finishing than a glut of quality chances. Carlisle triumphed here despite missing two good chances and having a man sent off early in the second half. Hartlepool looked capable of taking a point overall and looked to have rescued just that before their second equaliser of the match was cancelled out.
2016-10-15-cheltenham-crawley

This was the E Ratings’ surprise pick for the likeliest home win, based on Cheltenham’s persistent underachievement and Crawley’s overachievement both looking unsustainable. An early goal surely settled the Robins’ nerves and allowed them to keep their visitors completely at bay for the first half and ride out a late scare to claim a precious win.
2016-10-15-doncaster-colchester

Doncaster have put in plenty of excellent displays this season but this doesn’t look to have been one of them. They snatched the points at the end of a first half in which they’d barely threatened – although neither had Colchester really – and looked second best after half time, holding firm to clinch a fortunate-looking victory.2016-10-15-leyton-o-luton

Orient ran Luton close for much of this contest but couldn’t match their visitors for chance creation in the end. The home side were deserving of a place on the score sheet however and there’s no shame in failing to keep a side with the Hatters’ impressive attacking credentials out.2016-10-15-mansfield-wycombe

This game delivered more goals than many expected, featuring as it did two of the division’s quieter attacks and better-rated defences. Both sides ended up confining most of their attacking flair to a short burst – Wycombe in the middle of the first half and Mansfield in the latter part of the second – and each led to their solitary goal. The home side will be the more disappointed not to have found a winner by the looks.2016-10-15-morecambe-stevenage

Morecambe have looked worryingly poor this season despite their bright start, racking up more points than their performances suggested, but the reverse was true here. They finished an even game with a flurry of chances that would usually have been sufficient to claim a win, yet failed to even get on the scoresheet.2016-10-15-notts-co-crewe

Notts County turned leaving it late into something of an art form here. Having waited almost the entire first half before carving out their opening shot of the match, they finally clicked through the gears after the break and surged into the lead with 10 minutes remaining. However Crewe – who had looked mostly flat throughout – replied instantly to leave their hosts perhaps wishing they’d sprung into life earlier.
2016-10-15-plymouth-portsmouth

This is the game that everyone was keeping an eye on, with runaway leaders Plymouth against perennial promotion favourites Portsmouth. Home advantage doesn’t look to have counted for much, with Pompey performing the better in a game of few quality chances and likely to be the more disappointed with a share of the points, but the result has at least opened up the promotion race a bit.2016-10-15-yeovil-newport

Yeovil look to have been the worthier winners here and put some welcome distance between themselves and the relegation zone while consigning Newport to remain there for at least another few matches. This game looked pretty even until the Glovers broke the deadlock with a close range strike late on, which may be of some slender encouragement to their struggling visitors.

Ratings update

Let’s now look at how this round of matches has influenced the E Ratings table. The ratings are explained in detail here if you’re unfamiliar with them, but put simply they track team strength over time by measuring the quality of chances created and allowed:

l2-ratings-2016-10-15

Portsmouth‘s strong showing at Plymouth underpins their position as the standout team in the division, with Accrington a distant yet still-impressive second.

Exeter‘s impressive performance at Barnet catapults them four places higher in the congested middle section of the rankings. Beneath them, Mansfield were the only other club to rise multiple places after an unusually strong second half showing at home to Wycombe.

Morecambe remain bottom of the pile, although some improved performances of late have seen their ratings begin to lift. Above them, Crawley‘s defence has also continued to look more solid, although this was another week in which their attack failed to convince.

Predicting the rest of the season

While far from terrible at predicting individual matches, the E Ratings are at their best when making longer-term forecasts. After every round of matches I use them to simulate the rest of the season thousands of times to come up with probability forecasts for where each team will finish the campaign:

l2-probabilities-2016-10-15

Their entertaining 2-2 draw at Home Park hasn’t done much to separate the promotion prospects of Portsmouth and Plymouth, with the extra points that the former can expect due to their superior rating cancelling out the latter’s current cushion at the top.

There#s not much separating the rest of the field, with four other sides all given a better than 20% chance of joining them in the top three, while Grimsby currently look likeliest to make up the numbers in the final top seven.

At the bottom it still looks like Newport are in the most danger of dropping into the National League – their survival chances are down to almost 50:50 after defeat to Yeovil. With only two relegation places there’s still plenty of time to escape and no clear candidate has yet emerged for the second spot.

What’s changed?

As the graph above only gives the latest snapshot, I wanted to show what effect the latest round of matches has had on the bigger picture. Below I’ve added a few simple graphics to show how the promotion and relegation contests have changed since the previous round of games.

First of all, let’s look at the automatic promotion race. The filled green bars are the current probabilities (and should match the greenest bars above), with the hollow bars showing how each team’s chances looked after the last previous of games.

l2-promotion-race-2016-10-15

It looks like Portsmouth’s draw away at Plymouth has allowed them to narrowly overtake them as title favourites, while Luton’s victory at Leyton Orient has seen them gain significant ground on the chasing pack. With the other three sides listed here all registering wins, neither has gained a meaningful advantage over the other.

Now let’s look at the relegation battle:l2-relegation-battle-2016-10-15

Newport’s defeat to Yeovil has seen the Glovers’ relegation chances reduce significantly at the Exiles’ expense. Despite suffering defeat this weekend, Morecambe’s likelihood of relegation has also dropped noticeably: this is due to several of the teams still beneath them in the table also losing, thereby reducing their chances of overhauling the Shrimps’ advantage. Barnet’s heavy home defeat to Exeter has unsurprisingly damaged their survival prospects.