John McCormick

John McCormick: We’re  bottom but the gap’s closing

When I last reported in with the Salut Sunderland relegation watch we had had some recent wins but were still in the relegation zone, along with Swansea and Hull. (Swansea weren’t one of the clubs chosen in our start-of season poll but I included them in December on the grounds that some people did vote for “another club” and they  had begun to fit that bill after a decline).

That was just before Christmas, not long before the transfer window opened, and just around the time struggling clubs might decide a new manager might help them take advantage of it. Now, with all that business done (free agents notwithstanding) it’s time to take stock before we head to the end of season crunch games, six pointers and desperation sackings that define the struggle for 39 points.

At that point, late December, our relegation favourites had sorted themselves into three  groups.

You know the bottom three; I’ve already told you who they were. Besides, where else would we be at Christmas?

WBA, Watford and Bournemouth were well clear of trouble and more or less safe.

That left a middle group, comprising Burnley, ‘Boro and Crystal Palace. All were getting points here and there but I hazarded a guess that at least one of them would  be

plodging in the clarts come the end of the season, and those clarts might be thick and deep enough to suck any errant club down:”

And, seven games later, those clarts are being plodged.  Palace have slipped from the relative safety of the middle, ‘Boro aren’t far behind them. What’s more, an honoured guest has joined the melee and can feel the metaphorical squidginess between their metaphorical toes.

The graph below shows how our chosen clubs have fared in their quest for 39 points (with diamonds where managers have changed). At the start of the season every club needed to average 1.03 points per game to get to 39; with every game played this average changes. Consistent losers will find they need to average more and more per game  and any club getting to the stage where they need more than 3 points per game are going to be looking for them in the Championship ‘cos the only way is down: 

                           Points per game required to reach 39 points: position after 24 games

The uppermost line belongs to West Brom, who are well out of it. Three draws or one win and they will be at 39 points.

Then we have Watford, some distance lower on the graph but currently sitting pretty in 10th place in the league with 30 points. Next come Burnley, who are  inconsistent but have points on the board and impressive home form. I can’t see them slipping up now. They are followed by Bournemouth, who have fallen into the middle group and are now in a lower position than Burnley. Bournemouth still look safe but do need to be careful They had a monster slump in the second half of last season and they have yet to win in the league this year, so while I’m sure they’ll be OK I’m equally sure their fans will be nervous for a while yet.

And that leaves an expanded bottom group. It had three clubs, now it has six. Not only have Palace and ‘Boro joined Hull, Swansea and Sunderland, so have Leicester, who have gained only one point this year.

These groups can be seen clearly if we simplify the graph by using trendlines:

                                         trendlines Feb 2017, after game 24

I haven’t been compiling data for Leicester but have managed to put a short trendline in based on their last five Premiership games. I thought about leaving it out as only five data points leaves a lot to be desired but that short trendline serves as a useful illustration of Leicester’s predicament. With only 1 draw in their last five games they do appear to be heading downwards much faster than ‘Boro and Swansea, who also need 1.29 points per game but are picking them up, in Swansea’s case by the bucketful.

Indeed, as ever, I have to offer a caution over the casual use of trendlines, especially as they don’t cope well with changes in trajectory, but I do think these (Leicester’s apart) tell a story. The top four lines are heading upwards, the other six are heading downwards and their gradients aren’t that different.   I can say West Brom, Watford, Burnley and Bournemouth will be safe, barring catastrophe, but I couldn’t identify three winners and three losers from that bottom group and nor could anyone else.

Perhaps in March, when new managers have had their bounces – or not – and new players have bedded in – or not – we’ll have another look at the lines and see where they are going.

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by – and principally for – supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

6 Responses to “Sunderland, Palace, Hull, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Leicester – pick any three” Subscribe

  1. John February 7, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

    Swansea 9, Hull 7 and Sunderland 5 points since Christmas has made things very interesting, added to the Leicester 1, Bournemouth 2 and Boro and Palace 3 points in the same period it would not be to fanciful to think the first 3 mentioned stay up and 3 of the last 4 go down specially Palace as there points are from 6 games whereas the rest have played 5.

  2. Wrinkly Pete February 7, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

    Splendid piece John. At some point could you please explain r squared for a wrinkly please?

    • John Mac February 7, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

      r2 tells you how well a line fits the points that generate it.

      An r2 of 1 (or 100%) is a perfect match, i.e. the line goes through every point.

      The lower the number the more points are missed and/or the further they are from the line.

      r2 doesn’t tell you where the misses are, so a team can have an upturn and the trendline can still be going down, it just might get less steep and have the r2 drop as it misses the latest points. It doesn’t pay to put too much reliance on trendlines as you head off to the bookies.

      (and I’ve removed the bit of the previous post that referred to them. It was just there to help me keep track from December and should have been deleted. If any other reader wants to see earlier posts in this series they can follow the links in the text)

      Hope this helps

      • Wrinkly Pete February 8, 2017 at 11:30 am #

        At some point could you explain r2 for a wrinkly, please?
        (tee hee)

        • salutsunderland February 8, 2017 at 4:45 pm #

          If it’s 1 you can trust the graph
          Jmc

  3. Keith Hutton Africa February 8, 2017 at 8:09 am #

    The managerial replacements of Hull, Swansea and Palace haven’t all worked. Hull are showing great form with their new boss. His motivation and tactics have worked but will it last. Swansea who never seemed a poor team made a huge blunder with Bradley. Will the change work or continue to keep workin. Palace on the otherhand appear to have made the sensible and most experience approach but are having the least success. Sam I don’t believe is a quick fix merchant and will need time which is currently a rare commodity. Sunderland have a good manager but have been plagued with injuries and AFCON. Have we turned the corner or another false dawn. Boro and Leicester are heading downwards fast can the fall be arrested? It will go to the wire but if we play as we can we have a chance

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