League 2 previews, 29 Oct 2016

Below are the individual preview graphics for each of the weekend’s games. 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 based on the ratings;
  3. Scatter graphics showing the teams’ attacking and defensive performance this season.

Before we launch into them, here’s each match is listed in descending order of how likely a home win is. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but this is NOT betting advice – there’s loads of relevant stuff that the model doesn’t factor in (e.g. injuries and suspensions) that will surely have an impact.


So the most likely winners this weekend are Accrington, who host struggling Newport, but fellow promotion chasers Carlisle and Doncaster are also fancied to prevail against low-rated opposition. Leaders Plymouth have a slightly tougher test against a solid Colchester side.

Exeter and Portsmouth both suffered disappointing 2-1 home defeats last weekend but each appear to have a good chance of bouncing back with an away win. High-flying Luton also look a good shout to get something at Notts County.

Individual matches


Accrington look to be managing that rare lower league feat of replacing a successful – and subsequently plundered from above – squad with one that’s just as good on a relative shoestring budget. With slightly more emphasis on defence than last term, they look a decent shout for another play-off finish at least and look more than capable of dispatching struggling Newport. The Exiles aren’t the worst team in this division but are sitting dangerously close to that category and it’s too early to tell what effect the change of mangaer will have.

The goals have flowed far more readily for Hartlepool than Barnet this season, although unfortunately at both ends of the pitch. They’re the second sharpest finishers but also operate the third leakiest defence so far, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they meet the relatively wasteful yet stubborn Bees. The home side look the more competent performers overall, but with goals seemingly following their visitors around this could be a chaotic affair.

Portsmouth are the division’s stand-out performers this season but seem incapable of turning their dominance into results on a consistent basis (see exhibits A, B and C). Their porous defence may well get sufficient breathing space against Cambridge’s relatively quiet attack for their own forwards to rack up a decent lead, but their hosts aren’t as bad as their league position suggests and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Crawley are to League 2 what Reading are to the Championship and Port Vale are to League 1: a club whose high league position I am at a loss to explain from the data alone. The model fancies high-flying Carlisle to make short work of them here and up front the visitors appear massively outgunned. While the hosts’ defence has looked vulnerable this season, the division’s lowest-rated attack looks unlikely to take advantage.

Both of these clubs look as though they should be sitting higher in the table than they currently are, with each seemingly capable of a play-off flirtation at least. It will be interesting to see what happens when they meet, particularly as Cheltenham have looked sturdier in defence while Blackpool have taken a ridiculous amount of shots, and this contest could tell us a lot about which is likelier to mount a promotion challenge.

Doncaster’s performances have ebbed noticeably in recent weeks so this match looks less one-sided than it would have done a month earlier. Still, with Wycombe’s defence no longer looking capable of offsetting their quiet attack, the hosts are firm favourites: they operate the division’s most clinical attack and only two teams have permitted opponents fewer shots.

The gradual decline in Orient’s ratings doesn’t appear to be slowing yet, although they don’t yet look as bad as their league position implies. They remain relatively narrow favourites against Crewe, who have been quieter but far more efficient than their hosts going forward and allow relatively few shots, particularly away from home. It’s been 19 matches since Orient drew a home league game – the longest run in the EFL – so perhaps they’re overdue a stalemate.

Mansfield seem to be adopting a “safety first” approach this season, creating few chances but allowing even fewer, but the net effect looks sufficient to make them favourites here. Stevenage look better than their precarious league position suggests, albeit not by that much, with modest recent improvements in attack seeming to come at the cost of defensive stability.

Both Morecambe and Exeter have looked better going forward than defensively, although in the former’s case the difference has been between “relatively OK” and “horrifying”. Exeter’s attack has been one of the division’s most wasteful so far but the sheer number of shots allowed by their hosts should give them hope of finding the net. The Shrimps’ forwards have taken their chances well so far, so we could see goals at both ends.

Despite Notts County sitting alongside them in the play-off zone, Luton appear to have a strong chance of recording an away win here. Some sharp finishing from the Magpies looks to be masking an average attack and a vulnerable defence, which the Hatters look well-equipped to punish.

Plymouth have been ruthless at both ends of the pitch this season on top of some consistently strong performances, meaning that even a solid side like Colchester are distant second favourites when they visit Home Park. The visitors look capable of a top half finish despite some slight leakiness at the back: the three defeats in their seven-match winless run have all come against tough opposition.

Neither of these two sides has had a particularly efficient season in front of goal so far – they have been equally wasteful – but Grimsby are creating far more chances. The Mariners’ performances have dipped slightly of late and the departure of their manager (which isn’t a factor in the model) adds an element of uncertainty but, while Yeovil look to be a better side than last season, the visitors’ superiority on paper all but cancels out the Glovers’ home advantage.