|Hajduk Split kick off against Stoke.|
An example is probably in order.If a team would expect,on average to score 2 goals and concede 0.8 goals in a match or score 71.4% of the goals,it will also score about 71.4% of the opening goals in that matchup where a goal occurs.
Therefore we can say that scoring the first goal is a talent based skill,but the case of San Marino and England also indicates that short term outcomes and insufficiently large sample sizes can lead to less likely streaks appearing.If we imagine for a minute that the EPL is a coin flip league with no home advantage and each team has a 50% chance of scoring first in all 38 games.If we simulate 38 coin tosses and repeat it 20 times for each EPL team we would quickly find a team that appeared to score first much more frequently than 50%.But as we've used the same "coin" for each sequence we couldn't have found a team who specialised in scoring the opening goal,we've just hit an unusual sequence partly through a team's skill and partly through pure chance.Of course the EPL isn't a coin flip league,but it is still prone to short term streaks being mistaken for long term trends.
If we use pre game goals expectations to calculate the proportion of first goals the EPL teams were expected to score over a season and realise that 38 games are likely to produce sequences of games that have been more heavily influenced by good fortune that others,we can start to see which teams may have occupied false finishing positions in the final table.We saw here that it was likely that Ipswich were lucky to score first as often as they did in their penultimate EPL season and their inflated finishing position of fifth was more of a mid to lower half team who got lucky,than a bona fide 5th place finish.A fact confirmed by their relegation the following season.
A Team's Likelihood of Scoring a Game's Opening Goal Compared to their Actual Record.2008-11.
|TEAM.||SEASON.||% of Games where the Team Scored First.||Predicted First Goal Scoring %.||% Over |
|Points per |
As we can see within just 38 games there is considerably variation between a team's most likely rate for opening the scoring and their actually real life figures.Chelsea dropped over 30% below the figure you would have expected for a team of their ability in 2010/11.They weren't quite the side they had been in the previous two seasons,but by failing to score first in just under half of their games,they saw their points per game total fall below 2.They were closer to 4th than they were to 1st.In short Chelsea partly through luck found themselves trailing more often than previously and because "luck" has no obligation to immediately compensate them once the goal had been scored,they almost finished 4th.So far this year they've enjoyed the kind of scoring record more akin to their ability,netting the first goal 70% of the time one has been scored and are gaining 2 points per game,although sample size is an obvious caveat.
The sample size issue is also illustrated if we combine the three season records of the original Big Four,Liverpool,Chelsea,ManUtd and Arsenal to produce a sample equivalent of 12 seasons.If Chelsea were unlucky when it came to awakening the vidiprinter last year,fortune smiled on United in 2008/09 when they pipped Liverpool by 4 points.However,overall the Big Four combined for the last 3 seasons were expected to score 69% of first goals in non goalless games and that's just what happened.
Spurs were possibly fortunate to grab their Champions League spot in 2009/10.Random acts of elevated 1st goal scoring gave them a similar actual first goal percentage to rivals Liverpool despite Spurs arguably being inferior to the Reds.Second city rivals,Man City were probably as good a side as Spurs,but unlike them they underperformed in the 1st goal stakes.Tottenham grabbed the last Champions League spot by 3 points.
If luck plays a part in deciding the title,it can have much more serious consequences around the foot of the table.As Ipswich discovered,if your base talent isn't as high as you think,a few bad or simply neutral bounces can see you relegated from a previous position of apparent strength.Newcastle and WBA have been relegated in seasons where they could have reasonably expected to score first more frequently than they did,they were probably better than their points haul indicated and both maintained enough quality to return to the top flight.The same could well be true at West Ham.
Alarm bells should have been ringing pre season at Blackburn,who scored the opener in 54% of games in 2010/11 compared to an expectation of 45%.There is of course no guarantee that they won't get close to last year's figure this term,but the likelihood is that with little change in squad quality they will trend towards a lower percentage and find themselves at risk of relegation.So far this season they have just over 0.5 points per game and have scored the opener in only 27% of games.Opening scoring percentage correlates very well with points per game and a scoring % of 36 or below over a season puts a team on or below the magic 40 points mark that separates the EPL survivors from the dispossessed.
Graph of Points per Game verses Frequency of which a Team Scores the First Goal.
A team's opening goal record does not define a season,but it can hide frailties or abilities that reveal themselves in subsequent seasons.Ipswich should have toasted their 5th spot,but prepared for the next campaign as though they had finished 15th.When team management comes to decide how much squad strengthening is needed to maintain standards or push on to greater things,a quick look at the previous year's table is rarely sufficient.