A Season in Stats: The race for the League Two title
Time for a quick look at how the League Two title race developed for the final top seven of Swindon, Shrewsbury, Crawley, Southend, Torquay, Cheltenham and Crewe…
We’ve plotted the final points projection for each of the seven teams for all 46 rounds. The projection is a simple calculation of the points won per game at each round multiplied by to give an indicative final points tally.
Swindon’s poor start to the campaign saw the projected total as low as 28 points after five games – a 2-1 defeat at Shrewsbury. From that season low the trend was always upwards, however throughout the early half of the campaign we remained well off the pace, some 20 to 30 points behind Crawley and Southend’s projected finish over the course of several weeks.
Early pacesetters Southend and Crawley ultimately couldn’t make the distance, with their form declining following matchdays 18 and 20 respectively, at broadly similar rates, leaving the pair failing to live up to early hype.
Shortly after those two’s form first started to dip, Swindon commenced their best run of the campaign at matchday 23 – a 2-1 victory at Northampton. Also Torquay got into the act a matchday later with a 2-1 win at rivals Plymouth. These runs resulted in both sides making their impact on the top three. Town eventually had the stronger of the two runs, having started a game earlier with a 5 point advantage at the time, and then going a further 2 games unbeaten until the visit to the Kassam.
In those 24 final games, including matchday 23 – Swindon dropped just 14 points from 72 available. The few defeats and draws wasn’t enough ground to enable any rival to challenge our position.
None of our competitors were capable of putting together a meaningful run of victories after Swindon secured top spot. Their efforts were curtailed by Swindon playing and beating all except Crewe in the final half of the season.
Other than the Swindon / Torquay surge in form which happened at the same time, Southend, Crawley and Cheltenham all broke free too early and could sustain the distance.
Take Cheltenham, their late mid-season run projected a first placed finish after only one matchday. However their form post round 25 sharply declined, although they had already done enough to be well within the final reckoning.
The only sides that could sustain consistent form all season were Shrewsbury and Crewe. Salop were projected to finish below 80 points in 6 of the 46 rounds. Meanwhile Crewe’s season was more slow and steady rather than a surge to the play-offs – which they eventually won – after Dario Gradi was replaced by Steve Davis who oversaw just 4 defeats in his 32 games.
Swindon’s predicted points tally finally overtook all our nearest rivals at matchday 29 – following a 2-1 victory over Hereford United at Edgar Street; importantly Town didn’t secure top spot until a few days later and a win against Shrewsbury Town. So you could suggest the 2-1 win over Hereford United was the key result of the season in this respect
After Swindon took and kept first place Crawley, Southend, Torquay and Cheltenham all declined in their points projection, Shrewsbury made a marginal gain of 2 points and Crewe gained 5 points; highlighting the little threat Swindon had in the closing stages of the campaign.
So what have we learned from League Two in 2011/12?
Early season form is not a barometer for final position judging by Southend, Crawley, but also Morecambe, Rotherham and AFC Wimbledon all fell away. But also, neither Swindon, Cheltenham or Torquay were on for a promotion target of 80 plus points until matchdays 12 to 24 respectively. Football League chairmen please take note…
Even up until early December Crawley were on-course for 100 or more points at 10 of the first 20 matchdays, but they eventually fell 31 points behind their early projected high, showing they were just too good too soon.
The critical period is midway in the season. There is always a common view that Christmas and New Year fixtures are the crucial period, and this is borne out in this analysis. Three sides – Swindon, Torquay and Crewe – all commenced their strong form at that point which ensured they all finished well.
In the end it’s where you are in May that counts and nothing will ever change that.
Projected to finish 1st – Outright
- Swindon – 18 matchdays
- Crawley – 11 matchdays
- Shrewsbury – 4 matchdays
- Southend – 3 matchdays
- Cheltenham – 1 matchday
Projected to finish 1st – Tied
- 9 matchdays