Monday 14 January 2013

Grabbing Victory/Defeat from The Jaws of Defeat/Victory.

Sporting contests have to get the scoring system finely balanced between providing ample scoring events to keep the neutral interested, while also keeping games close enough to produce the kind of comebacks that were seen this weekend in both the EPL and the NFL. Soccer takes the route where scoring is difficult enough that a goal is an event in itself and teams are rarely able to race away on the scoreboard and the NFL opts for a more frequently, slightly easier tiered scoring method where caution whilst leading can be punished and adventure whilst trailing well rewarded.

The first unlikely comeback of the weekend came at Reading, where the home side trailed by two goals to a WBA side currently drifting slowly back to earth after a hot start to the season. Just two wins in the last ten matches has reinforced the belief that the Baggies aren't quite ready to challenge for Champions League football, but they were still far enough ahead of Reading to be marginal pregame favourites.

0-1, Lukaku, 19'
0-2, Lukaku, 69'
1-2, Kebe, 82'
2-2, Fondre (pen), 88'
3-2, Pogrebnyak, 90'

Two goal leads are usually well defended (see here and 5addedminutes ) and with the clock at 81 minutes, a come from behind win was an extremely remote possibility. Late goals, scored in a losing position quickly shed value as the clock ticks towards fulltime and Reading's 1.5% chance of winning when they pulled a goal back at 1-2 in the 82nd minute had fallen back to below 1% just prior to their equaliser.

From Zero to 92% in Nine Minutes. Reading's Chances Just Prior to Each Goal.

Scoreline. Chance of a Reading Win. Chance of a Draw.
0-2, 81 mins. 0.1% 2%
1-2, 87 mins. 0.7% 10%
2-2, 89 mins. 9% 82%
After Third Goal, 3-2, 90 mins. 92% 8%

Dramatic wins appear even more so if they occur in a high profile match and although the three points may prove vital to Reading's survival chances come May, the impact of Saturday's result was partly diluted by its appearance on a mundane Premiership weekend.

Equally dramatic, but of a much higher profile was Seattle's late comeback, followed immediately by an even later collapse in the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs in Atlanta. In addition to playing last week at home, while Atlanta rested, West coast Seattle had traveled from the Pacific to the Eastern time zone, leaving their body clocks feasting on breakfast as Atlanta built up a 20-0 halftime lead.

As suggested here Settle's above average passing and running offense gave them potentially a very good matchup against Atlanta's below average defense and belatedly the Seahawks became competitive on both sides of the football. The NFC west side's chances of winning their contest never fell to the levels seen by Reading, but their lowest in game position came just before the end of the 3rd quarter as Atlanta took at 27-7 lead following Ryan's pass to Snelling.

Seattle's In Game Highs and Lows.

Scoreline. Time Remaining. Chance of a Seattle Win.
7-27, 1st & 10 (Seattle) at own 20. 2 min 11 secs, 3rd Q 2%
28-27, 1st & 10 (Atlanta) at own 28. 25 secs, 4th Q 93%

Reading's late winner was seen as almost inevitable by some, but their chances at 2-2 weren't much better than 10%. Many felt Seattle were equally destined to convert their last 2 minute drive into a game leading score and it was Wilson's sack escaping toss to Lynch for a 24 yard gain to the Atlanta 3 with 44 seconds left that finally, if fleetingly made Seattle favourites to progress to the NFC Championship game.

86% quickly became 93% as Lynch completed the drive by the slimmest of possible margins. Unfortunately, 40 yards in 25 seconds, even against a defense which statistically has your number is perfectly possible against a soft prevent strategy and two passes and one field goal later, the comeback had died.

Seattle will look to those two completed Ryan passes when time and Seattle's defense should have been daring Ryan to beat them instead of sitting back and hoping for a mistake, but two late second quarter visits to the Atlanta 11 were equally decisive. Even at third and long with little time left or fourth and 1, a team of Seattle's quality should be averaging between two and four points from such field positions, but on each occasion they came up scoreless in a game they lost by two.

Sport at its best for the neutral, rather more extreme emotions for the respective supporters.


  1. Comparing football with the thing Americans play is fundamentally uninteresting.