McCormick’s Craic: down among the dead men, a lifeline for Aston Villa

John McCormick: reviewing the trends
John McCormick: reviewing the trends

So who is going down? For virtually the first time this season neutrals are mentioning Sunderland as serious contenders. Given our awful run, and the tough bunch of games to come, that is hardly surprising. John McCormick has been studying trends again and comes up with potentially good news for Aston Villa, though he still sees QPR and Reading going. At whose expense would Villa survive? Ours? Not according to whatever can be gleaned from the stats John has been reviewing. Read on but expect to be blinded by this branch of science …

It’s now ten games since the Christmas period, when I started looking at goal differences. Since then there have been enough unexpected results to make me wonder why I stuck my neck out by predicting that  QPR and Reading would be joined in the championship  by the team whose goal difference showed the most consistent decline in the second half of the season, while the others at the bottom would show a greater improvement. (If you want to look at the original posts click on my name at the top  and find them in the archive on the page which appears).

My idea was always speculative, not to say fanciful, but after 5 games it did appear that it might have substance. Trendlines pointed firmly at Villa as the third team, with Wigan also looking a possibility for the drop should Reading maintain a magnificent run of form which netted them thirteen points when the best of the other teams were achieving four or five. Since then things have tightened up, so much so that I’ve had to include QPR and Reading in the charts. My apologies to their fans for the original omissions and my forecast of doom but, as you’ll see, celebrations on their part could yet be premature.

I began by showing Sunderland’s goal difference over the season. There was a downward trend,  unspectacular but consistent. This trend has continued, with only a rare draw to slow the decline:

SAFC Goal Difference, games 1-19
SAFC Goal Difference, games 1-19
SAFC, Goal Difference, games 1-29
SAFC, Goal Difference, games 1-29









This has to be a cause for concern but my question was, and is, “how does this compare to other teams?”

So here are the goal differences for the teams which were propping up the premier league at the time, plus Fulham, who weren’t doing too well after a promising start:

Goal differences August 2012 - mid March 2013
Goal differences August 2012 – mid March 2013

As before, we aren’t doing too badly in comparison with some of the others. There are teams around us who are conceding at least as many goals. However, starting at August doesn’t let us examine the idea that it’s the way goal difference goes in the second half of the season which will be the indicator.

So, once again, here is a graph to show changes since Christmas, when I reset the goal differences to zero:

Bottom teams, Goal difference changes since game 19
Bottom teams, Goal difference changes since game 19

And, once again, I’m sure you’ll agree the chart is too messy to make interpretation easy and it’s time to call up trendlines.

Goal difference trendlines, games 19-29
Goal difference trendlines, games 19-29

Ignore the difference in the positions of the starting points on the left. It’s the slopes (the gradients) of the trendlines which matter.  NUFC and Fulham’s are almost horizontal and  I’d say those two will be safe. The other six have gradients which are not too different. Putting that together with the jumble on the actual goal difference chart I’d say my original prediction has no substance. There’s nothing in goal difference to say who is going down. Did anyone really expect anything different?

Having said that, I want to continue what I’ve started so I’m going to update my prediction anyway, using the trendlines as my starting point  and using their R²  values to get an idea of how reliable they are. An R² value actually gives a measure of how well a trendline fits the points on a graph. If it’s 1 the trendline will go through all of the points. If it’s 0 the trendline will be miles away from them. I’m working on the principle that trendlines which are close to  many points (i.e. with high R² values) will be reliable indicators. This sounds reasonable but it’s not a mathematically valid principle.   However, having introduced R² values in the previous post I have decided to operate on the mathematically valid principle of “in for a penny, in for a pound” and carry on with them.  Here are the R² values:


R² values
Fulham 0.0007
nufc 0.0171
safc 0.334
Soton 0.44
QPR 0.585
Reading 0.6181
Villa 0.6769
Wigan 0.683

When I look at the slopes of the six remaining trendlines I can see two groups:

Reading and Wigan have the two steepest slopes. Their R² values are above 0.6, which foolhardy souls might interpret as meaning there is an element of reliability and GD will continue to go down over the next 9 games.

That leaves Southampton, QPR, Villa and ourselves. Their downward trends aren’t quite as steep and their R² values show a lot of difference (Villa’s R² is one of the highest of the eight, Sunderland’s the lowest of the six teams showing a decline). I’m interpreting the differences in R² as meaning Villa’s GD will continue downwards, QPR’s probably will, Southampton’s might and Sunderland’s could go anywhere.

So, for what it’s worth, and I do hold a well-deserved place at the bottom of Goldy’s predictions league, here is my updated prediction:

QPR and Reading are still doomed. They have points to make up but are still trending downwards so won’t close the gap.

The team which will join them is most probably Wigan  but it’s a very tough decision. They have a steeper downward gradient than Villa. However, they do have a game in hand, which I think is against Man City, and a win could change things around, and then there’s a certain game on the last day of the season.

Villa, Southampton and Sunderland are the next three in line for relegation, in that order. Their trendlines have similar gradients – perhaps Villa’s is slightly steeper – so will keep their relative position.

You’ll notice that this prediction actually mirrors the current league positions. It was the same when I did the graphs after five games. This is intriguing, given that I’ve decided goal difference is a useless predictor. It’s interesting enough  for me to want to follow it through, especially as the dog-eat-dog games waiting in the wings will surely have an effect on the trendlines. I’ll try to revisit  in about five games to get a last prediction before the table gives us the final and irrevocable truth.

4 thoughts on “McCormick’s Craic: down among the dead men, a lifeline for Aston Villa”

  1. A fine Craic you have McCormick – I too have always held that Goal Difference is a fair indicator of a team’s potential.

    But as a Villa fan I think there are a couple of moderating factors not considered here. Villa started with a very young and naive team. Subsequent hammerings only confirmed this. Yet of late – the football has been good – and while silly errors still plague their defence – they are fewer and farther between.

    Recent performances haven’t been dire at all – though results have been. I think Lambert’s young side are beginning to get a grip and maturing. They are also beginning to play good football and scoring.

    Whether this is enough to preserve their Premier status is another question. But taken as a whole, I think Villa’s form is on the up – I just hope it is good enough to keep them up – lose the expensive dead wood – and kick on in the seasons to come.

    • Your argument’s at least as valid as mine. Players gaining experience, returns from injury, new injuries, postponed games because of cup-ties, new signings bedding in, double point games, matches against teams still involved in Europe,

      Theres a long list of factors which will affect the table between now and May.

    • Agree with that. Villa are beginning to gel, and if they stay up this season, I think they will not struggle next season. If they do get relegated, and I don’t think they will, they will walk the Championship.

      I wish I could say the same about Sunderland. We are a team without direction or confidence, and with a manager who has run out of ideas. Each season, one team seems to go into terminal decline in the late stages, I fear this year it is our turn.

      Of the six teams, and based on how they seem to be playing, I think that Reading, Southampton and SAFC will be relegated.

      I think that Redknapp will keep QPR up. I fancy Villa, because they have shape, pace and a top striker, and Wigan because they always do.

      I hope I’m wrong!

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