How the pandemic changed football: A League One Case Study

By Rob Cusack

In this article, I am going to set out, through the use of statistics and numbers, how this season has been different to any of the previous three in League One.

This based on the following data; Home wins, Draws and Away wins in total, then for each club’s individual home and away W/D/L record, as well as the number of goals scored and conceded per game both home and away.

To begin with, these statistics are correct as of Monday 8 March, so in Pompey’s case, do not include the home league game v Sunderland on 9 March.

Throughout the previous three seasons (two fully completed seasons and the shortened season in 19-20), there have been 1,503 games, with the home win percentage at 43.25%, draws at 27.15% and away wins at 29.61%.

Teams playing in empty stadiums has caused a change in the numbers.

In the 383 games played so far in League One, the home wins percentage has remained fairly solid (at 41.25%), whereas draws have fallen by 3.91%, to 23.24% and away wins have risen by 5.9%, to 35.51%.

This is only a cursory look, and doesn’t take into account who has played each other in much detail, but it is clear to see the impact of no fans in the grounds is having on games where teams are winning away from home more than settling for draws, as in previous seasons.

Some people believe there have been more goals in this season without fans; other articles have suggested a lower concentration level from defenders, or the lack of fans cheering strikers on leads to them missing chances when not properly focussed.

This is not the case in League One.

Over the past three seasons, there has been an average of 2.60 goals per game, with this year producing only 0.03 more, at 2.63 per game.

This shows the number of goals scored this season is still in line with the previous seasons, despite the absence of fans.

Although, more games this campaign have been “high scoring”, matches with five or more goals.

The clubs I will be focussing on are Pompey, Sunderland, Bristol Rovers, and AFC Wimbledon.

There have been 55/383 (14.36%) “high scoring” games this season, 53/399 (13.28%) last season, 71/552 (12.86%) in 2018/2019 and 62/552 (11.23%) in 2017/2018.

In order to analyse individual team statistics from this season, I’m focusing on a few clubs that have been in League One for at least three seasons, including this one, and have had a consistent league position throughout, to see if there are any differences in results and the number of goals scored.

The teams have consistent League positions because it assumes that a difference was not just caused by drastic change in squad quality.

For Pompey, the average Home W/D/L percentages over the previous three seasons are 57%, 25.6% and 17.39% respectively.

This has dramatically changed this season, with 21.71% less home wins, 3.81% more home draws and 17.9% more home defeats.

Away from Fratton Park, the W/D/L averages are 42.2%, 18.93% and 38.87% – but this season Pompey have enjoyed 17.8% more away wins than average, 5.59% less draws and 12.21% less away defeats.

In terms of goals, Pompey have scored 0.4 less goals per game at home, while conceding 0.1 more.

The Blues have also scored 0.46 goals per game more away from home this season, while conceding 0.21 less.

For the sake of comparison, I’ve also analysed Sunderland’s statistics.

Sunderland’s home W/D/L record this season has produced 5.34% less home wins, 13.38% less home draws and 16.55% more home defeats.

On the road, Sunderland have secured 7.28% more wins, 18.28% more draws and suffered 25.56% less defeats.

Sunderland’s goal statistics have a similar profile to Pompey, as they have scored 0.57 goals per game less than average at home, while conceding 0.06 more.

Away from home, they have scored 0.61 more goals and have conceded 0.7 more.

Bristol Rovers, who have finished in the bottom half of League One throughout the period studied, have won 4.27% less home games than average this season, drawn 21.84% less and lost 26.1% more.

The Gas’ away form has also been different to the average, winning 9.55% less games, drawing 1.79% more and losing 6.31% more.

In both home and away games, Bristol Rovers have scored less and conceded more per game, 0.18 and 0.42 at home, and 0.17 and 0.22 away respectively.

AFC Wimbledon, the final club analysed, have suffered the largest increase in home defeats with a massive 47.13% increase from the average.

They have won 2.43% more home games this season though, while drawing 10.53% less.

Away from home, the Dons have won 12.34% more games, drawing 23.61% more and losing 13.63% less.

AFC Wimbledon have scored more goals at home, 0.11 per game, while conceding 0.7 more.

Away from Plough Lane, they have scored 0.05 less per game, while conceding 0.16 per game more.

Obviously, these statistics provide a good indicator of how different this season has been for certain clubs, but there are underlying factors that may have influenced these results.

For example, Sunderland striker Charlie Wyke has scored more goals this season than any other in his career, which contributes to The Black Cat’s increased scoring away from home.

In conclusion, there is a significant increase in away victories across most clubs, often replacing draws – which have decreased by 3.91%, about 15 less than would be expected after 383 games in a ‘normal’ season.

The spreadsheet used for reference for these statistics can be accessed here.

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