A quick look at game states, 20 Dec 2016

It’s been a long time since I had a look at game states i.e. when teams have been winning, drawing and losing, but a few eyebrow-raising things I noticed while researching something else seemed to be collectively worthy of a quick post.

You may remember that I’ve summarised the amount of time each club has spent in each state a few times, including earlier this season when Coventry sacked their manager despite spending more time winning than losing. This is basically the same, except I’ve tidied up the graphs a little bit to make visual comparisons easier.

For each of the top four English divisions, I’ve graphed every club in descending order of the difference between the percentage of time they’ve spent winning and losing.

Premier League


It’s not a shock to see Chelsea sitting at the top here, having spent almost half of their playing time in a winning position this season, although three top flight sides have been losing for a smaller share of their on-pitch minutes. Chief amongst these is Arsenal, who are the only club among the top four English divisions to have been trailing for less than 10% of their league minutes this season.

The Gunners have spent over half their time drawing however, whereas the Blues have been stalemated for just over a third of their playing minutes. However Southampton have found top flight deadlocks the hardest to break, having seen the scores level for a greater share of time than anyone else: almost 56%.

At the bottom of both this chart – as in the Premier League table – we find Hull, who are the only club in the top four divisions of English football to have been winning for less than 10% of their time on the pitch. The Tigers are also one of only four clubs to have been in a losing position for over 40% of their playing minutes.


ch-game-states-2016-12-20Newcastle perhaps unsurprisingly lead the way, but impressively they’re the only club in the top four English divisions to have been in the lead for over half of the total time that they’ve been on the pitch in league games this season. Furthermore, only Liverpool and Arsenal in the division above have been losing for a smaller percentage of playing time than the Magpies.

Despite their disappointing campaigns so far, both Norwich and Aston Villa are also near the top. The Canaries are one of 10 clubs out of the top 92 to have spent more than 40% of their time winning, having started the season in fine form prior to their recent dip. Villa’s problem is breaking the deadlock: they’ve spent the highest proportion of time drawing of any club in the top four divisions.

While bottom side and relegation favourites Rotherham are ranked bottom, it’s interesting to see that there are a fair few sides who have been winning for a smaller share of their playing minutes this season. Fellow strugglers Wigan fare worst by this measure, having led for only 12.0% of their playing time, but it’s surprising to see the likes of Bristol City and Wolves leading less than the Millers.

League 1


Two of the current top three – Bolton and Scunthorpe – are also two of the top three here, which isn’t all that surprising. However it’s very interesting to see that the rest of the top five are Fleetwood, Southend and Northampton: the first two are just outside the play-offs and the Cobblers are very much in mid-table at the moment. The Cod Army’s lower position in the league table can perhaps be explained by how difficult it’s been for them to defend a lead: nobody in the top four divisions has dropped more points after scoring first than the 20 they’ve surrendered.

Sheffield United’s relatively modest placing is due to their horrible start to the season. They may be flying now but their first lead of the campaign came towards the end of their fifth match and their second was in stoppage time during their sixth.

Bradford’s attacking problems are clearly illustrated here: while only two League 1 clubs have been trailing for a smaller percentage of playing minutes than the Bantams, nobody has spent such a high proportion of time drawing. With only three defeats but more draws than wins this season, it’s clear what Stuart McCall needs to address if they’re to sustain their promotion challenge.

It was interesting to find Bristol Rovers near the bottom given that they were sitting as high as fifth recently. A quick look at the data reveals that they are the anti-Fleetwood: nobody across the top 92 English clubs has recovered more points after conceding first than their 22 – in fact the next highest is just 14. Impressively, six of their eight league wins this season saw them concede first and they’ve only led twice at half time this season.

League 2


The top three clubs here are also the three currently sitting there in the actual league table, albeit in reverse order, and the top ends of each bear a decent resemblance to each other. However it’s interesting to see Colchester sitting higher than Portsmouth given that Pompey sit nine places above them in League 2 at the moment. This seems to come down to difficulties in breaking teams down, with Paul Cook’s side only having led at half time in five of their league games this season. Colchester meanwhile have themselves been broken down a lot late on, having only been trailing at half time in two of their league matches so far but ending up on the losing side in eight.

Both Accrington and Mansfield may have had similar issues to Porstmouth, as two of the three clubs in the top four English divisions to have been drawing for over 60% of their time on the pitch this season. These two also rank lowest in the division for the proportion of playing minutes spent in the lead so far.

Strangely, despite sitting just two points outside the relegation zone, Hartlepool are next to Pompey in the top half of the graphic. This can be explained by how many points they’ve dropped after scoring first: like Fleetwood in the division above they’d be 20 points better off if they’d successfully defended all the early leads they took, so much of their time spent winning didn’t translate into results.

There are two clubs who stand out – and not in a good way – at the bottom of the chart: Notts County and Morecambe. Neither are in the relegation zone at the moment but there’s plenty for both to worry about. No club in the top four English divisions has spent a greater share of their time in a losing position than Morecambe, who won four of their first five matches this season but only another three since then. The Shrimps are also the only club in the top 92 to have spent less than a third of their time drawing.