Monday 7 April 2014

Crystal Palace Survival Update.

For the length of his Premiership tenure at Stoke City, Tony Pulis always managed to pull of at least one late season victory over a fellow struggling team that virtually guaranteed safe passage through to May. Two goal margin wins at the Hawthorns in Stoke's first Premiership campaign and at QPR in Pulis' last season, sandwiched similarly important victories over the likes of Middlesbrough, Hull and Wolves in the intervening years.

For all his critics at the Britannia and beyond, Pulis never allowed the fans' fingernails to be bitten all the way to the quick and it was frequently Stoke's opponents whom were staring into the abyss on the final day of the season.

Whether that was a talent or just a happy quirk of fate, the Premiership's marmite figure virtually guaranteed himself a shot at a full season in Premiership charge of newboys, Crystal Palace, following a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Cardiff on Grand National Saturday.

Three goal margin wins are an extravagance that rarely appears on the Welshman's CV, where defence is prized above all else and few can disputed the marvelous turn around he has engineered using his tried and trusted approach. When Pulis arrived at Palace after 11 matches, they had fewer points than Derby had at a comparable point in their miserable 2007/08 season when they ultimately finished bottom with just 11 points.

As Palace fan and Infostrada's data guru, @SimonGleave points out on Twitter,

Since Pulis was named, Palace have kept nine clean sheets. Only Chelsea (12) and Arsenal (10) have kept more during the same period.

In those 21 PL matches, Palace have conceded 18 goals. Only Chelsea (14) and Man City (17) have conceded fewer in the same period.

Whether you use cold hard numbers or gut instinct, the picture is rosy for a second season of Premiership football. Last weeks post combined these two approaches by simulating the fate of each side given they attain a particular number of points. 

A fan whom watches his side over the course of a season is well placed to give a valid opinion as to the likelihood of their team taking all three points away at Cardiff, So the wisdom of the (Selhurst Park) crowd can provide a strong indication of the number of league points their side will finish with at this late stage of the season.

Above is the updated plot, summarizing the simulated relationship between points and how frequently each team survived in the 2013/14 EPL season. Palace's current total of 34 points is already sufficient for the team to survive in over half of the 10,000 simulations, even if they fail to gain another point. A single draw bumps their survival rate in excess of 80%.

For completeness, here's also the target figures for the remaining struggling teams.

The really good news for Palace is that Cardiff wasn't their easiest game in the final run in. They have a better opportunity to gain additional points in their upcoming home game with Villa and a similarly "easy" away match, comparable to Saturday's win at Cardiff, at Fulham on the final day. So points are there to be taken to push their likely end of season points haul to even more comforting probabilistic levels.

Again by simulating the remainder of the campaign, it's possible to arrive at how likely Palace are to finish with a particular points total and those predictions are shown in the plot above. Each fan will have his or her individual attainable total in mind, but even allowing for a degree of pessimism, the high 30's should be easily reached.

By combining the two plots above, we can arrive at a more conventional graphical depiction of the likelihood that Palace could, through the unlikely combination of a really poor set of results over the last half dozen games, combined with Europa League qualifying form from one or more of the teams currently cut adrift at the bottom, find themselves relegated in May.

So to summarize, Palace has a less than 2% chance of being relegated prior to Sunderland's Monday night game at Spurs. By defeating Cardiff, they almost certainly sealed the Welsh sides fate.

Norwich reacted to an extremely damaging loss at home to WBA by sacking their manager and face a massively important game at Fulham next week, followed by a run in that takes in visits to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and visits from Liverpool and Arsenal.

Should Fulham defeat Norwich, the Cottagers may face Palace on the final Sunday having to win to stay up, while the Palace fans celebrate another resounding success for the Pulis sorcery.

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