Thursday 7 November 2013

Begovic Scores! We Draw!

All of the best photographers appear to have a sixth sense about when a worthwhile picture opportunity is about to arise. It was therefore no surprise that my camera had just been returned to my rucksack when Asmir Begovic (a goalkeeper) scored for Stoke (after 13 seconds) against Southampton at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

There were clues available that would have indicated that Mark Hughes had a plan. All teams have a preferred end to attack in the second half and there appears to be a tacit agreement between captains that if the visitor wins the coin toss, he will take the kick off, rather than earn the early game wrath of the home supporters by turning the teams around. Therefore, the undercurrent of discontent that accompanied the sides swapping ends after the coin toss on Saturday, turned to slight bemusement as Southampton lined up to take the kickoff.

Stoke had turned themselves around.

The geography of the Britannia Stadium makes it an ideal site for endurance training. The prevailing wind regularly blows in from Trentham, funnels itself through the two open corners at the south end of the ground and then struggles to exit at the single open corner to the left of the Boothen End, tipping a hat to the statue depicting the three ages of Sir Stan as it carries on towards the city.

Stoke now have a chequered history with near gale force winds. In the distant past it has removed the roof of the Butler Street Stand (along with our best striker to pay for the uninsured infrastructure), but the worst it has managed at the Britannia was the late postponement of a game against WBA. On Saturday it provided Stoke with the opening goal by way of partial payback.

In the subsequent press conference, Mark Hughes acknowledged the deliberate decision to play with the wind during the first half, citing the importance of scoring first, which is encouraging. However, it is (hopefully) unlikely that his keeper was considered the most likely scorer. Hughes' apparent encouragement for his sides to shoot from distance, so vividly demonstrated at QPR, must have some bounds.

Following the kick off, Southampton chose to attack Stoke with a series of intricate passes. This quickly broke down, the ball was rolled back to Begovic, who launched a wind assisted punt goalwards. Both Southampton defenders chose to ignore the golden rule of defending, namely "never, ever let the ball bounce" and Boruc was left embarrassed by a slick bounce on the wet surface.

Begovic is the fifth keeper to score in the Premiership and invariably such goals require additional help or unusual circumstances. Tim Howard's effort against Bolton was a replica of Begovic's goal, but Peter Schmeichel, when playing for Villa opened the goalkeeping Premeiership goal tally from the more advanced position of the opposing penalty area. So modelling the likelihood of a keeper netting is going to be hugely situational.

We may have more luck trying to quantify the quickfire timing of the goal.

Stoke v Southampton, two minutes 13 secs from history being made (not shown).
The chance of a goal being scored increases slowly, but inexorably as time elapses as caution and fitness, gives way to adventure and fatigue. Your chances of seeing a goal during the sixty seconds that comprise the 8th minute is only 80% of your chances of seeing one in the 80th.

However, three "sixty second" intervals are completely atypical compared to this gradual cranking up of goal expectation. The 45th is the second most goal laden "minute" followed by the 90th and the reasons are clear. Injury time extends both minutes well beyond sixty seconds leading to two big spikes. Therefore these increased rates are purely artificially created by traditional timing considerations. The second half starts with the first second of the 46th minute, even if the first half stretched well beyond 45 minutes of actual time.

The barren blip that comes with the first minute, by contrast is entirely real. If you chose any sixty second period in the first ten minutes, you are likely to see around 0.7 to 0.8 percent of the total goals scored during the match, on average. But if you plump for the first 60 seconds of a match, you will be lucky to see much more than half of the typical early minutes goal percentage.

Again, the reasons are fairly plain to see. Every game starts with a kickoff. The ball is about as far from either goal as it can possibly be and all eleven players are positioned between the ball and their goal and this formation of maximum protection for each goalmouth is guaranteed to occur during the first minute in every match. Hence the scoring is not only at its lowest because of the usual ebb of intent and desire to score, it is atypically lower because of the requirement to start the game with a kickoff.

So, pulling all the information together, around 0.5% of goals come in the first minute, the first 13 seconds are likely to see less than a pro rata division of this goal expectation because of the guaranteed safe starting position for the ball. A back of the envelop calculation using these figures and the average scoring expectation over the history of the Premiership gives an average goal expectation for the first 13 seconds of a Premiership match of around 0.0015 of a goal. The chances of scoring twice or more in 13 seconds is impossible, therefore a goal in the opening 13 seconds should, under these informed gu-estimations happen around once every 666 matches.

So, unlikely as Begovic's goal was purely from a timing perspective on that particular Saturday afternoon, we should expect to have seen around a dozen such goals scored before the 14th second has elapsed over the 8,326 game history of the Premiership.

Begovic's strike was the sixth such effort, so maybe the primeval order at kickoff takes slightly longer to descend into chaotic normality than I accounted for or Premiership audiences have just been slightly unlucky.

If you have to miss a minute of a match and you want to reduce your chances of missing a goal, chose the first minute, (although you may be really unlucky a miss club history in the making), but at least on Saturday any tardy spectator got to see a match featuring two keepers whom had both scored a career goal, (although Boruc's strike came from the altogether more likely source of the penalty spot).

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