‘I won a few things with them and had a little bit of success’

John McCormick: We're not bottom, so is it a Happy Christmas?


No game, and no need – or desire – for a relegation review so soon after the last one, which means I’m taking another meander around the Northwest to bring you up to date, more or less, with some of the clubs on this side of the Pennines.

I was going to title this piece “take a walk on the west side” in homage to wrinkly Pete’s propensity for including songs. You’ll find out why I didn’t at the end.

Read more‘I won a few things with them and had a little bit of success’

Blackpool, Bolton, Blackburn and even Morecambe. Is there a warning for us?

John McCormick: We're not bottom, so is it a Happy Christmas?
John McCormick. Live from Liverpool

John McCormick writes: I was thinking of updating our “Relegation watch” this weekend, seeing as there’s no football on, but with a couple of days to go before the transfer window shuts it feels like it’s too early to complete the “before and after” picture. I could have given you my view of Deloitte’s Money Football League but in recent seasons that has been pushed into the summer and I like it there. So I’ve decided to do another of my occasional visits to clubs on this side of the Pennines, where there is plenty of food for thought.

Read moreBlackpool, Bolton, Blackburn and even Morecambe. Is there a warning for us?

When Sunderland don’t play on Saturday there’s time for a wander over the Pennines

John McCormick: bored
John McCormick. Across the Pennines

Every now and then, when there is no meaningful football on I take a wander around the NorthWest, focusing on some of the clubs we might otherwise forget. I must add, however, that I do mention big’ns when necessary, as you can see, which brings me to Everton FC who, having gained plaudits for their supporters’ player of the month, went one better with their magnificent gesture to help Bradley Lowery. Well done EFC, who surely are, as Sixer said after they tonked us, a class club.

Read moreWhen Sunderland don’t play on Saturday there’s time for a wander over the Pennines

Sixer’s farewell to Pantilimon and Graham hails effort over achievement

Jake's take on Pants, whose heroics at the Emirates helped keep us up last time
Jake’s take on Pants, whose heroics at the Emirates helped keep us up last time

The transfer window is an opportunity for some players to move on and restart their careers. And so it is that, while saying welcome to Jan Kirchhoff and Dame N’Doye we also say goodbye to Costel Pantilimon and Danny Graham.

Neither will be rated as amongst the finest signings the club has made. They will not be spoken of in the same awed terms that are reserved for the likes of Chris Turner or Marco Gabbiadini (48 today).

Read moreSixer’s farewell to Pantilimon and Graham hails effort over achievement

Beware the ideas of March

John McCormick:
John McCormick: Marching on


As we’re not playing this weekend, I thought I’d provide some March-flavoured comment. I see it as my duty as a citizen of the European Capital of Culture (2008) to bring enlightenment to the denizens of the runners up, Newcastle-Gateshead. You’re one of them, by the way. The Angel of the North is part of Northumberland according to the opening of Robson Greens’ latest TV series, and Hadrian’s wall marks the border with Scotland according to independence referendum pundits, so anywhere up north must surely qualify as part of Newcastle-Gateshead, which are and always will be two distinct towns as far as I’m concerned.

I must include references to football, of course, which allows me to begin by saying March down here saw quite a few miserable faces following Everton’s exit from Europe and then Stevie G’s early bath, which no doubt contributed to a defeat at the hands of Liverpool’s arch arch-enemy. Ha!

Read moreBeware the ideas of March

McCormick’s Craic: spot the difference in the relegation dog fight

John McCormick: researching important facts
John McCormick: researching important facts

Following on from Pete Sixsmith’s comments on the Guardian’s take on Premier League statistics, John McCormick decided to do his own piece of number crunching and what follows is the fruit of his labours. His piece was completed before the Hackers disrupted the site and before the Spurs game kicked off.

Last season was the first in five years where goal difference

has determined the title, and only once in those five years has a relegation been decided on goal difference.

How do I know? I’ve been playing around with the interactive tables on the premier league website (http://www.premierleague.com/en-gb.html). If you pay that site a visit in the next few days you’ll find their half-term report, where experts give opinions on best goals and managers, and predictions for the top four. It’s a good site but I couldn’t find any picks for relegation or teams that will scramble to safety, and there was no mention of SAFC. No wonder Sixer can’t find anything in “The Guardian” if the Premier League ignores us.

But what else can you expect when the Premier League lacks the top-class team you will find writing for the Salut site? Good though we are, though, we don’t expect to be taken too seriously. We’re a fans’ site for fans and we want to provide banter and fun that you won’t get from a club or the premier league, along with analysis and content that will get you thinking. I believe we succeed in our aim and in that vein, here’s my last posting of 2012. It contains some figures that Sixer didn’t find and comes with my my best wishes for 2013.

At the start of the season we had a solid defence. We couldn’t buy a goal, but we didn’t concede many and our goal difference remained relatively healthy. Then things changed. Our scoring improved but our defence became leaky. As a result our goal difference became negative.

This got me thinking. Can goal difference tell us anything? I began to look into it, starting with mid-season positions and goal difference over the last five years.

In some years teams arrived at 19 games at different times, so I had to work backwards and forwards to make a table which shows the situation for the last five seasons:

The following table shows Premiership position and goal difference after 19 games:

2011/12 2010/11 2009/10 2008/9 2007/8
Pos SAFC  (13th) 1 SAFC (7th) 2 SAFC (10th) -3 SAFC -5
16 Wolves r -13 Wigan -14 Wolves -16 Spurs -3 Boro -16
17 QPR -15 Fulham -4 West Ham -7 Boro r -11 Wigan -15
18 Wigan -20 Brum r -6 Bolton -12 Stoke -14 Fulham -14
19 B’burn r -13 Wolves -12 Hull r -22 B’burn -14 SAFC -21
20 Bolton  r -19 W.Ham r -13 P’mouth r -11 WBrom r -21 Derby r -34
also relegated Blackpool (11th) -5 Burnley (16th) -19 NUFC (12th) -2 Brum (14th) -9
Reading (12th) -11

In every season some teams with a poor goal difference have stayed up at the expense of others in better positions. For example, last season Wigan went into the new year at -20 but survived, whereas Blackburn and Wolves, both with -13, didn’t. The season before Wigan had -14 after 19 games and stayed up while Birmingham had a goal difference of -6 and then won a trophy but still slipped through the trap-door.

There’s something else. In all but one of the last five seasons a team outside the bottom five at the half-way stage has gone down. Most had been recently promoted, although our friends up the road proved an exception. They had all been in mid-table with, Burnley excepted, goal differences that gave little concern.

Goal difference can’t help to identify escapees and even a mildly negative goal difference is no guarantee of safety. It doesn’t let us form rules, or even make a prediction. We can say Reading are bottom at Christmas and therefore doomed and I’d say QPR, bottom after 19 games, will be joining them. However, this is a result of their failure to win points and not their poor goal differences.
We, of course, have just enjoyed seasonal good cheer by the barrowload. Does this mean we have turned our season around? I’d like to think we have, and maybe in such cases goal difference will give us confirmation. (Written before the Spurs game – Ed) I’d expect goal differences between the top and bottom clubs to widen between Christmas and May. I’d also expect the gap to increase more or less proportionally if teams stay as they are, as a goal difference of +20 after 19 games will have grown to +40 after 38 games, and -20 will become -40.

Are these assumptions correct?

They are for most of the clubs who find themselves in the bottom five after 19 games and who then go on to be relegated. However, the teams that stay up invariably improve their goal difference in relative terms. In our first season back in the premiership Derby went from -34 to -69, Birmingham from -9 to -16 and Reading from -11 to -25. They were relegated. We, on the other hand, went from -21 to -23, indicating a massive improvement. It appears that, for the bottom teams, an improved goal difference in the second half of the season is a key factor in survival. This shouldn’t be surprising as it requires either an improved defence or attack, or both, so points are not lost to defeats and may be gained by wins.

Where teams improve equally those starting with fewest points will always lag behind. Last season Wolves went from -13 to -42 and Blackburn from -13 to -30 and both went down. Bolton bucked the trend by ”improving” from -19 to -31 but they couldn’t catch QPR who also ” improved”, from -15 to -23, or Wigan, who did even better and remained at -20.

So, while looking at goal differences at any single time is of little use, observing trends might have possibilities as a predictor. This season’s midpoint has seven points separating six teams occupying 13th place downwards to the third relegation slot. This group includes Fulham, whose goal difference has drifted from +5 to -5, and Villa, whose goal difference has recently dropped like a stone. Who is at greater risk? An 8-0 thrashing wrecks goal difference but only loses three points. A series of 1-0 defeats loses many more points but goal difference only drops slowly. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the five whose goal differences show the greatest improvement in the second half of the season will avoid relegation, irrespective of their points on Boxing Day, and a consistent decline will point to the doomed team.

And which way is our goal difference heading?
We’re heading downwards, which is not promising but we aren’t plunging off a cliff. We are overcoming our weakness in attack, so to reverse this trend we just need to get our defence back to what it was at the start of the season. Clean sheets against Southampton and City suggest we might be doing this. I’ll revisit around the end of January to see if we are. Until then, keep the faith.

See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739

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Robson Report: Chelsea, now Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers, conjure managerial mayhem

Jeremy Robson

A Forest fan on the radio expressed the hope that Roy Keane’s presence at the 4-2 defeat of Leeds did not mean he was about to be named manager. More rang in to register disgust at the treatment of Sean O’Driscoll. Meanwhile, Henning Berg’s reign at Ewood Park also ends, in his case after fiftysomething days. Jeremy Robson is aghast at a creeping tendency within football …

Read moreRobson Report: Chelsea, now Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers, conjure managerial mayhem

Muted welcomes for Reading and Southampton; mixed outlook for Wigan and Blackburn

Sixer by Jake (the Soapbox is hidden)

The only certainty among the four clubs mentioned above is Reading, promoted thanks to the 1-0 win over Forest. Southampton look set to join them but may still have a little work to do while Wigan’s sensational recent wins have not yet ensured survival. Pete Sixsmith looks at the likely comings and goings and shamelessly allows his preferences to be dictated by geography, politics and beer …

Read moreMuted welcomes for Reading and Southampton; mixed outlook for Wigan and Blackburn

Salut! Sunderland’s Week: after Everton, please no cricket score at Man City

Tony Roffe's monumental photo skills + Jake's flattery

It all began so well with a comfortable win over QPR that dumped them in the relegation zone and, with Everton winning 2-0 at Swansea, pushed us back up to eighth top. Unfortunately, Everton had the taste for victory more powerfully rooted in their mouths and proceeded to repeat the scoreline at the Stadium of Light.

Read moreSalut! Sunderland’s Week: after Everton, please no cricket score at Man City