Have you noticed Swindon Town win so frequently after taking the lead? Ron Smith asks how much of an advantage does scoring first give Paolo Di Canio’s side.
Swindon’s 4-0 victory over AFC Bournemouth made it 6 games in which we’ve opened the scoring in 2012/13 and we’ve won all 6. This 100% record is contrasted by results against Preston, Orient, Oxford and Carlisle, who all scored first and we only managed to come away with a draw in Cumbria. But does scoring first really have a significant bearing on the outcome of the game?
Throughout his managerial tenure at the County Ground, the scorer of the first goal has played a significant factor for success under Di Canio. In his 69 league and cup matches, Town have scored first 41 times, with a record of 37 wins (90.2%), 3 draws (7.3%) and a single defeat (2.5%) – at Shrewsbury in August 2011. The current sequence is an impressive 22 wins in a row after taking the lead, following a Mark Hughes equaliser for Barnet in the 1st leg of the JPT Southern Area Final.
Di Canio’s sides – yes he’s had a few – have nowhere near that high success rate in matches when we’ve conceded first. In these 24 matches, Town have won 6 (25%), drawn 2 (8.3%) and lost 16 (66.7%). The current sequence is 9 games without winning after the opposition scored first – the last being a 2-1 victory over Shrewsbury in League Two back on 21st February when Matt Richards opened the scoring for the Shrews.
To date under Di Canio, Town not only score first more frequently, but when we do, we have a significantly higher percentage chance of winning the match, currently standing at a victory 9 times out of 10.
Comparisons with other teams are hard to come by with a general lack of data. One indicator is to look at League One since the start of this season. Of the 88 times a team has opened the scoring, 64.7% went onto win, 29.5% draw and 5.8% defeated. Also analysis of the 2011/12 Premier League showed an average of a 71% chance of a win at home and 61% away when scoring first. Clearly Swindon’s efficiency to win when scoring first far exceeds these averages, so why is the scorer of the first goal such a factor in our success?
Di Canio frequently talks about ‘mentality’. Speaking after the victory over the Cherries, Di Canio commented “I told the players to change their mentality; it is better to start well, take chances and build the confidence. I saw the difference in their play and we now approach home and away games in the same way.”
The statistics show that Swindon have ‘started well’ in 59.4% of Di Canio’s matches, taking the lead with a 90% record of finishing with a victory. Building upon this obvious advantage is an easy one for the Italian to promote; start well, score a goal first and ultimately it will take care of itself with continued determination and passion.
It therefore makes logical reading that the average time of 47 minutes for a Swindon ‘winning goal’ – that being the goal putting us one ahead of the opposition’s final score – comes shortly after the average first goal time of 43 minutes – in league and cup – over Di Canio’s reign.
As Di Canio admits, it’s all about confidence. As those average goal timings show, when we open the scoring we effectively kill the game off. It gives the defence the confidence to protect a lead, which they’ve done with great success securing 30 clean sheets in the 41 games, giving our opponents little chance to equalise, let alone comeback and win the game. Confidence also provides the attacking players time and space to play their game, resulting in some of the most attractive football at the County Ground since I was a nipper.
There’s also the pressure. Saying that the players are working in an uncertain and high pressure environment under Di Canio is an understatement. Scoring first is perhaps so crucial to confidence, ensuring the team are a small way to meeting his expectations. As a player the last thing you need is to go one down, look to the sidelines, spot the Italian and know your number will be soon up.
The 100% record of scoring first and following it with a victory has clearly provided the catalyst for the League Two title and making an early impression in League One, however these statistics highlight a vulnerability.
The percentage of games lost after conceding first is equivalent to the small sample in League One at around the 65% mark and it is worrying that the chance of some sort of a comeback only meets the division average. Despite notable comebacks to win against Rotherham, Huddersfield, Wigan, Northampton, Southend and Shrewsbury, there have been too many Leyton Orients, Prestons and Oxford Uniteds. For Di Canio, improving the ability and mentality to mount a comeback after going behind is crucial because while we may be good at scoring first, you can’t rely on opening the scoring to form the basis for success.