A guide to the League One title race

With the season at just over the half way stage Adam Johnson, over two blogs, will be looking into Swindon’s promotion rivals. In this edition we look at those who are fighting for the title won by Charlton Athletic a year ago…

Guessing who is going to win the title in January is a tough order. However, with the help of stats, I have made an educated guess as to how the League One title race may end on April 27th.

We are going to look into four teams, besides Swindon, who could make a claim to become the 2012/2013 League One Champions.

We start with current League One leaders Tranmere Rovers who have been the surprise bunch this season. No team is top of the league without deserving it as Rovers made a flying start to the campaign and have led the way since the early days of the 2012/13 season. After a rough spell of no win in six during November into December others have been able to close up the gap but five wins in a row have maintained their number one status.

The stats – on the below graphs showing each team’s attacking and defensive efficiency – show that they are formidable in both attack and defence with 44 goals scored and 24 conceded in 27 games. They seem to allow teams to come onto them and can withstand the pressure, with the 5-0 defeat at Swindon proving a one off. They’re clinical on the counter which is essential with the system they employ as they create less than their opponents but get the points.

2013.01 att-eff-l1

Click to enlarge to view League One attacking efficiency graph – after 20 games

The concern will be maintaining their impressive first half to the season as, even though they have a good squad size of 23, beyond their front 11 they have a lack of depth in comparison to others. The fact they’re top is of massive credit to Ronnie Moore and his side but keeping it up now is the concern.

Rovers will want points on the board as soon as possible, like everyone else, but they have other reasons why it’s essential. Their last eight games of the season will be tough as they’ll be up against five of the current top eight including Doncaster, Sheffield United and Milton Keynes Dons.

They’ve signed former Liverpool and Preston winger David Amoo, who was a thorn in Town’s defence on that forgettable day at Deepdale earlier in the season but the main transfer news is the situation of 11 goal striker Jake Cassidy. With no concrete deal as to whether Wolves will allow their front man back to Tranmere, and his starting appearance in their game v Blackburn Friday night, it’s a nervy wait at Prenton Park as a place in the top two will most likely depend on it.

Doncaster Rovers are currently joint leaders in 2nd  but have been rocked by the departure of manager Dean Saunders who has joined Championship side Wolves, a side that seem to be quite involved in League One matters this season…

After four wins in the opening 10 games, Donny have put together some consistency in recent months to hold the title of most wins of any club in League One this season. The basis to their success is their attacking abilities led by two former West Country men in David Cotterill, ex Bristol City, who has 10 goals and former Town striker Billy Paynter with 7.

It’s not the number of goals that’s impressive but the conversation rate of chances, which is also the best in the league. On average Doncaster have 7-8 shots on goal per game, the least amount in the league, but only need five of them to resort in a goal. They have experience up front in Paynter, Chris Brown and Iain Hume, with the latter two only offering 9 goals between them so far which will need to be higher to guarantee a top two push.

2013.01 def-eff-l1

Click to enlarge to view League One defensive efficiency graph – after 20 games

Doncaster have it similar to Tranmere, leading to most of the top clubs having this predicament, that in the last five games of the season they’ll play three of the top six. March and April, if not interesting enough, will certainly be great entertainment in League One with several big fixtures.

Another key to their success is their outstanding away point’s tally, which makes up for very average home form. Ten wins out of 14 games with one defeat and only conceding nine goals is title winning stats. It’s this ability of winning games where others may settle for a point that could see them win the league. They’ll have plenty of competition but the stats do favour them for the second half of the season.

Now in fourth after their weekend defeat to Yeovil, it’s Sheffield United. A team predicted by many to challenge at the top and after last season’s playoff final defeat, won’t want to gamble.

Their squad has depth, which you would expect by being one of the biggest teams in the league, with Nick Blackman leading the way on 11 goals after his summer move from Blackburn. They have a mix of youth and experience from 19 year old keeper George Long and same aged centre back Harry Maguire to 31 year old Michael Doyle and 32 year old Dave Kitson.

The Blades have a strong defensive base in the stats as they are second in the league for most shots against before conceding with an average of just below 11. Their main defensive strength is shown away from home by only conceding 10 in 13 games helping them to only lose two of those 13 games, winning 6 but a few too many draws.

Upfront they are one of the top sides for converting a limited number of chances. They’ve scored enough at home with 23 in 14 games but away have only managed 15 in 13, the joint lowest of the top seven sides. However their strong defence means they can afford to rely on it and hope they take the chances when they come.

With 11 draws to their name, the most of any in top seven, a top two place could depend on whether they turn future games into wins. They’ll face three of the top six in the last six games but with the advantage of Bramall Lane, which is slowly losing its ability as a fortress in recent weeks, they’d hope for a strong finish when others may trip.

Now mine, and maybe Paolo Di Canio’s, wildcard pick for the top two is AFC Bournemouth. Earlier in the season they were the big spending strugglers with Paul Groves as manager then, since the return of their saviour Eddie Howe, fortune has been turned around. The former Burnley manager is unbeaten since taking charge, and since he first laid eyes on his team, in 14 league games recording nine wins.

Eddie Howe has done tremendous work on the coast and has the side that promised so much now showing everyone their true colours. They have talented individuals across the team from the back with Miles Addison and Tommy Elphick, the midfield with Marc Pugh and Harry Arter and in attack with new signing Brett Pitman, Matt Tubbs and top scorer with 10 goals Lewis Grabban.

The front three and creative options in midfield should impress League One fans and the figures will tell you why. Bournemouth create an astonishing 13 shots on goal per game and need, on average, 7.5 of those chances before they score. These are the 3rd best attacking stats in the league with only Swindon and Coventry ahead of them.

With this attacking mentality of football comes the worry of conceding at the other end but on recent form, they’ve conceded once in their last five games.  At home, they’ve only conceded 12 in 14 games but away from home its nearly double. They’ve scored enough goals away with 18 in 12 games but have conceded 22 to waste their attacking prowess.

If they can keep up their impressive strike rate and continue to shut up the shop more often, they have the momentum to push for a top two spot and certainly a playoff spot.

2011-12 League One Winners - Charlton Athletic

It’s now time to put a prediction in writing and I’ve gone with Doncaster Rovers being the 2012/2013 League One champions.

I’ve changed my mind so many times as there are reasons why any of the current top seven could go on to win the league. It’s going to be settled by small a margin and that is something I can guarantee.

This is a massive ‘put my neck on the line’ moment but I’ve gone for Swindon as League One runners up. I’ll do a blog looking into this next week so keep your eyes to the site to see why I think Town will pip others to the coveted top two, it’s not biased.

To be blunt, Paolo Di Canio has summed it up best: “I know you can’t judge one team on one game but six of the eight will be up there if they don’t have a crazy second half to the season,”

The stats do back up Di Canio as the top seven look set at the top of the table in the stats and depth of their squads. Who will win it? It’s literally a lucky dip.

League One Champions: Doncaster Rovers

League One Runners Up: Swindon Town

Attacking and Defending graphs from Experimental 361. To see more stats about League One, visit the website: http://experimental361.com/

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