How do goalscorers fare after their team is promoted?

While there’s no football to cover, I’ve been gradually chipping away at my “to do” list. Most of this is tidying up and improving code, but there are also a lot of questions I’ve been asked and hadn’t gotten around to answering. When I produced a recent mid-season batch of my attack breakdown graphics I was asked whether I could create historical versions so that attacking players’ performance across different seasons and divisions could be compared.

While that’s still a work in progress, I realised that I could answer part of that question by comparing the goalscoring rates of attackers who had stepped up a division. To avoid muddying the waters, I’ve only looked at players who stayed with the same club, specifically those in the last 10 seasons who have:

  • Scored 10 or more league goals (excluding penalties) for a club that won promotion
  • Played at least 1,000 league minutes (and scored at least once) for the same club the following season

I’m expecting most players to score less regularly after promotion – regardless of their own ability to adapt to a higher standard of defending, their team as a whole will tend to find it more difficult to create chances – but it’s worth trying to quantify exactly how their scoring rate changes.

Below I’ve looked at players making the transition between the three EFL divisions and the Premier League:

Championship to Premier League

Unsurprisingly most Championship goalscorers perform less impressively when they’re transplanted into the Premier League. Of the 32 players in the last 10 seasons who got into double figures and stayed with their club after promotion, only five scored at a higher rate for their club the following year. Of those, only Newcastle’s Andy Carroll and Norwich’s Grant Holt – both target men – improved on their previous season’s strike rate, although Reading’s Adam Le Fondre – a smaller striker – also adapted well.

Overall, the average player in this sample saw their goalscoring rate drop by 41%, which is the equivalent of a 20-goal striker’s return dropping to around 12. Some players have been far less fortunate in recent years: both Cameron Jerome of Norwich and Wolves’ Sylvan Ebanks-Blake banged in a goal every other game as their sides went up, but their output slowed to a trickle in the top flight the following season.

League 1 to Championship

The jump from League 1 to the Championship appears slightly easier to traverse, with seven of the 34 attackers in my sample seeing their goalscoring rate improve and the average player’s output only dropping by 36%. It’s not surprising that both Rickie Lambert and Sam Winnall went on to secure moves to bigger clubs given how they hit the ground running after their teams were promoted.

Again we have a few players in particular who struggled to adjust: Preston’s Joe Garner and Bradley Wright-Phillips of Charlton were among the most prolific League 1 strikers to stay with their clubs after promotion, but both struggled to find the net in the second tier.

League 2 to League 1

The step up from League 2 to League 1 is – perhaps unsurprisingly – the gentlest of the three. While most players who make the jump with their clubs score less frequently, the drop-off in their scoring rate is just shy of 20% – the equivalent of a 20-goal striker netting around 16 in the following campaign. Therefore it seems like far less of a risk for a club promoted from League 2 to keep the faith in its established strike force.

Nahki Wells’ goals have just helped to fire Huddersfield into the Premier League and he already looked too good for League 1 back in 2013 with his goalscoring rate eclipsing what he’d managed in League 2 the season before. It’s also easy to see why Bristol City decided to poach Matty Taylor from their local rivals, as his impressive scoring rate in League 2 didn’t drop that much after promotion.