League 2 previews, 19 Nov 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.


Accrington appear to have the best chance of a home win this weekend, with Doncaster also likely to take maximum points at home against bottom half opponents.

There are a fair few matches which are tough to call, with Leyton Orient, Barnet and Yeovil all hosting opponents with similar prospects of victory to their own.

Luton look likeliest to record an away win this weekend at struggling Morecambe, with Portsmouth the only other away side that the model considers favourites.

Individual matches


Despite their inconsistent form this season, Accrington’s performances continue to retain much of what propelled their promotion challenge last season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish this season in the top seven. Some clinical Stevenage finishing is masking some concerning performances, so this has the makings of a tough trip for them, although some leaky defending from their hosts so far provides some hope.

One of the more finely-balanced fixtures of the weekend sees Barnet – busy at both ends of the pitch this season – host a Crewe side whose games have been far quieter. Which trend will prevail is unclear, as is whether Barnet’s stronger attack can break down the visitors’ tougher defence. One thing I hadn’t noticed until just now is that Crewe are sitting sixth by virtue of alphabetical order, having identical points, goal difference and goals scored to seventh-placed Grimsby.

The coming together of two teams better at defending than attacking doesn’t exactly scream “goals”. Both sides are recovering well after poor starts and neither will be particularly keen to sacrifice momentum here, so hopefully the two managers will approach this fixture ambitiously. Cambridge have the quieter attack but their defence has been far more convincing and the net effect – coupled with home advantage – should provide them with a useful edge.

Unlike the fixture above, this game brings together two teams better at attacking than defending, so perhaps we’ll see a few goals here. Carlisle are one of the division’s better attacking sides but fewer heroics at the back would have surely seen their unbeaten run end sooner: only two sides have soaked up more shots for each goal conceded. Exeter have been underachieving this season and seem to enjoy away trips far more than playing in front of their own fans, although it’s unclear whether the exteme length of this journey will have an effect.

Cheltenham are another side who look better than their league position suggests – by my reckoning they’d be sitting in the top half with better luck – but they’re unlikely to launch themselves up the table here. Their visitors haven’t always gotten the results to go with their performances either but their formidable showing this season means that home advantage won’t be sufficient to make this an easy game for the Robins.

Doncaster’s ratings have undergone a bit of a collapse lately but they still look good enough to sustain a promotion push as it stands and this match should give them a chance to show what they’re capable of. Hartlepool’s performances have been concerning this season, with some clinical finishing up front being undermined by a worrying porousness at the back. However the same could be said of their hosts, so regardless of the outcome there could be a few goals here.

Orient haven’t had a very enjoyable season so far and there’s no guarantee of home comfort here when an upwardly-mobile Blackpool come to visit. The away side are the most industrious shooters in the division and look capable of a play-off finish on current evidence. What’s interesting about this match is that it pits hosts who have won just one home game (Orient have lost the other seven) against visitors who have only won once away (albeit drawing three of the others).

Mansfield may be sitting 18th but the league table is so close that one more point would put them ahead of 13th-placed Crawley on goal difference. The visitors look to have been overachieving this season so it’s not a surprise to see them slipping down the table at the moment and this looks to be a very winnable game for the Stags. As I pointed out in the permutations this week, the table is so close that a win here could even launch them into the play-off zone, so if the Mansfield chairman had kept his finger off the trigger for a week longer then Adam Murray might still have been in a job and we’d all have been spared the odious reappearance of Steve Evans.

Morecambe’s ratings have stabilised lately but their long winless run has seen their early points cushion all but evaporate, while Luton are looking increasingly capable of an automatic promotion tilt. The Hatters create plenty of chances and are likely to have the better of this encounter given the ridiculous number that Morecambe’s defence tends to allow, with their own back line one of the division’s most resilient.

Despite sitting 16 places apart at the moment, there’s not been that much between these two sides performance-wise. Being one of the division’s more reliable finishers so far has certainly helped to keep Notts County in the top half but I’d be surprised if they remain there much longer given how obscenely close the League 2 table is at the moment. Newport’s back-to-back wins in games they were fancied to lose should be of grave concern to the home side given their own stuttering form of late.

Grimsby have adapted well to life back in the EFL, but this represents a rigorous examination of just how far they’ve come. Plymouth’s huge lead at the top of the table appears to owe more to ruthlessness than dominance but even with average shot conversion at both ends of the pitch they’d probably still be sitting in an automatic promotion place, so this will rank as one of the Mariners’ tougher away trips, particularly given their frustratingly wasteful finishing this season.

This match looks too close to call, with Yeovil operating a quiet attack that Colchester should be capable of containing but for their depressingly regular habit of leaking goals. The visitors have unfortunately picked up where they left off last season, albeit not to the same extreme, with a disturbingly high percentage of the relatively few shots they’ve faced ending up in their net, although they won’t get many better opportunities than this to record an away clean sheet.