Aston Villa earned themselves a creditable 1-1 draw in the Friday night game against playoff rivals Leeds United last week. Not for the first time in recent weeks, the Villans displayed some grit and determination in clawing themselves back into a game from a losing position. Undoubtedly, this is a trait that was missing last season, and it is pleasing to know that a game isn’t necessarily lost if we concede first.
Due to results elsewhere, the point still saw us slip down one place to 5th position. We also lost a bit of ground on an automatic promotion place which is now seven points beyond us. Whilst things are far from over, I do still think a playoff finish is a more likely outcome for us this season. Despite this, I did start to wonder what we would need from the second half of the season to be able to try and avoid the unpredictability of the playoff.
If you like stats, and frankly who doesn’t, then you’ll probably love this. I decided to look at the last ten seasons of Championship football from 2007/08 onwards and try to work out some patterns and trends. I analysed points totals and total amounts of home and away wins and losses to be able to try and predict, to some extent at least, what Villa require to achieve a first or second place finish.
Taking the Leeds game into account, we have now played 20 games so far this season. We have a total of 36 points. That works out to an average of 1.8 points per game. If we extrapolate that over the 46 game season, then we will end up on 82.8 points. Being generous lets round it up to 83.
That might sound like a healthy return for the season but it is a total that is extremely unlikely to clinch us an automatic promotion spot. Only once in the last ten years has a team won the league with less than 87 points, and that was the anomaly 2007/08 season that saw West Bromwich Albion win the league with just 81 points. In fact, our projected total of 82.8 points was only enough to finish second once in the same ten year period, again in that 2007/08 season which saw unprecedentedly low points totals across the board.
The average amount of points for a team finishing first actually works out way higher at 91.6. Even a second place finish works out on average as 86.8 points. So, if we aspire to secure one of these positions, what are we going to need to do to make it happen from our current position?
Well, again over the last ten seasons, the team winning the league has averaged winning 26.8 of their total games. Teams finishing second are not far behind this with an average of 25 wins.
This can be broken down further into the home and away wins. Title winning teams average 14.8 home wins and 12 away wins. Runners-up will be just behind these totals, averaging 14.6 home wins and 10.4 away wins.
We can also take into account losses which also make for some interesting stats. First placed finishers lose an average of 8 games a season, with just a miserly 2.6 defeats coming at home and 5.4 defeats on the road. Second-placed teams averages aren’t far off this, with a total average of 9.2 losses in a season, comprising of 3.6 home games and 5.6 away games.
So, what does this all mean for Villa? Well, put simply, the averages represent a tall order to follow from where we are right now. Our current stats for the season are:
We have a total of 26 games remaining this season, split equally with 13 home and away games. To match the average points outlined, we would need to win 9 more home games along with 7 or 8 more away games.
Further to this, we can’t lose more than another 2 more home games and perhaps more disconcertingly, we also can’t lose more than 2 or 3 more away games.
In total, we’d need to win either 16 or 17 of our remaining 26 fixtures, whilst losing no more than 5 games in the same period. Which leaves room for 3 or 4 draws and even then, as this is based on averages, it still might not be enough.
It is a mammoth task to recoup so many points. It certainly isn’t impossible but I do think that we lack the consistency to be able to record so many wins. We have so far won exactly 50% of our league games this season. To have a chance of an automatic promotion place, that would need to increase to 61.5% at the very least from now until the end of the season which represents a huge, and unlikely, hike in form. More and more isn’t pointing towards the playoff positions, isn’t it?
On the other hand, I certainly think that we are solid enough to not lose that many more games. I always feel that we lack something special to turn those draws into wins at times. For example, whilst the draw against Leeds was ultimately a good result, I felt that that was actually a winnable fixture. With tough games coming up against Brentford, Derby and Middlesbrough away from home, the inconsistency shown by Leeds so far this year perhaps actually represented our best chance of gaining three points on the road during December.
Perhaps more encouragingly, however, a playoff finish does at least seem to be more nailed on, baring a capitulation. Again looking at the figures, the average points total to grab a playoff place works out at 77.5 points. As mentioned previously, we are on target to hit 82.8 points. No club has finished outside of the top 6 with a total of 80 points or more. In fact, one team, Leicester City in 2012/13, even scraped into a playoff place with just 68 points. The average points total for finishing in 6th place works out at 73.6 points.
On average, a playoff finish consists of winning 21.6 games (12.9 at home, 8.7 away) and affording 11.6 losses over the season (4 at home, 7.6 away). This means we need to win another 12 games this season (on average, 6-7 home games and 5-6 away games), which works out as 46.1% win percentage of our remaining games; even less than the 50% we have already so far averaged, indicating that this isn’t beyond us. Also, based on the figures, we can also suffer 7-8 defeats which appear to be well within our capability seeing as we have lost just four times so far.
A growing injury list including a dearth of striking options could severely hold us back in the coming weeks, although several players are beginning to stand up and take responsibility for goals from other areas. However, I do think it will ultimately be a struggle without a reliably consistent front man. Last year Jonathan Kodjia was on hand to score 19 league goals. By all accounts, he is now out for the season. Scott Hogan continues to struggle for goals when fit. Keinan Davis is showing promise but looks unlikely to turn into a goal machine this season.
With a lack of funds to buy big in the January window, we will need to really pull something special out of the bag from somewhere to land someone capable of scoring on a regular basis which I believe will be the difference between an automatic promotion push and finishing in a playoff position.
One thing that goes in our favour though could be our fixture list. After this tough December period, we will have played nine of the current top eleven sides in the league away from home already. In theory, this should leave us with some very winnable games on our travels in 2018. Of course, the flip side is that those same teams still need to visit Villa Park. However, we are looking very tough to beat at home and a fortress mentality is certainly being formed. It is somewhat of an assumption to say that makes our task easier, but I’d certainly rather have to play those teams at home than visit them on their own patch, especially as the season intensifies.
We are certainly improving as the season goes on and whilst it’s not impossible, I do think that the targets required represent just a step too far for us to go up automatically.