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League 2 Statistical Review

With most teams having only four matches left of the season, there are still a number of issues to be decided in League 2. The top two teams in the division, Burton Albion and Shrewsbury, are separated by just one point as they battle for the title, while there are five teams separated by just four points in the battle for the final two playoff places. At the bottom, it would appear to be two teams from Hartlepool, Tranmere and Cheltenham that will be relegated from the football league.

League 2 has been one of the divisions that I have been focusing on in the 2014/15 season, so I thought I might put something together with some of the stats that I have accumulated from the season thus far. The first is a chart that plots a team's shots on target ratio (SoTR) against their PDO (read here for an explanation of PDO), which gives a rough idea of which teams are good and which teams have benefitted or suffered due to an element of luck.
The closer to the top of the chart that a team is, the better the team is (based on their SoTR). Similarly, the further toward the right that a team finds itself, the more lucky they have been.

We can see that Shrewsbury are well clear at the top in terms of quality in the division. This is reflected by the fact that they are challenging for the title and have been close to the top from the very first week. Their closest challengers in the table are Burton, who we can see are also a very good side, but have possibly benefitted from an element of good fortune this season - their scoring percentage of 34.6% is the fourth highest in the division, while their save percentage of 73.4% is eighth.

A couple of teams that stand out in this chart. Firstly, Dagenham and Redbridge are a huge outlier in the bottom right-hand corner. Based on SoTR, they are actually the worst team in the division, yet they sit comfortably in 15th position in the table. This can be explained by their huge PDO score - a scoring percentage of 37.0% is the highest of any side in the division, while their save percentage of 75.5% is the fifth highest. It could be that they have massively clinical strikers (the experienced Jamie Cureton is their highest scorer this season) and a very good keeper, but the reality is that they have benefitted hugely from luck this season and will have to significantly improve next season if they are not to face a relegation fight.

On the other end of the scale, Mansfield have certainly not benefitted from any luck. Their SoTR of 47.7 is not great by any means, but their scoring percentage of just 21.1% is the second lowest in the division and is likely the source of their struggles in recent months.

Another curious team are Oxford United. A SoTR of 54.5 puts them as the sixth best team in the division, yet they sit in 16th position and are technically still not mathematically safe (although in reality they will be fine). Their low PDO can help to explain this with a scoring percentage of just 26.2% and a save percentage of 63.6%, which is the lowest in the division. Indeed, at home at the Kassam Stadium, it is only after the most recent match that their save percentage rose above the 50% mark to 51.0%, which is an astonishingly low value. As a comparison, the second lowest home save percentage is 62.5%.

The final team to look at is Luton, which we shall do in slightly more detail. A couple of months ago, they were looking in excellent shape to secure a playoff spot and possibly even challenge for automatic promotion. Indeed, it was only just over two months ago that the bookmakers priced them at 1.50 for promotion out of the division.

However, after a run of ten defeats in twelve games, they have dropped to ninth in League 2 and are now priced at 4.50 simply to make it into the playoff places. It has led to the usual media narrative that they are throwing it away, that confidence is low and that they have choked. Is this true? The chart below shows their SoTR and PDO as the season has progressed.
We can see that their SoTR has been dropping over the past ten matches or so from a peak of 50.0 to its current level of 46.2. However, a maximum SoTR of just 50.0 is far from good enough to seriously be challenging for the playoffs, let alone for either automatic promotion or the title.

What we can see though is that they have been benefitting from a very healthy PDO throughout the season, which has been steadily dropping in recent months. At the half-way point of the season, their PDO was at a very high value of 113.3 and since then, it has steadily fallen to its current level of 107.4. Chances are that it is this fall in PDO that has been behind their poor run recently. Whilst their level has dropped slightly, this PDO correction is the biggest reason for their dip in form.

So, we mentioned at the start that there were a number of aspects of League 2 still to be decided. Let us take a quick look at the difficulty of the matches that the relevant teams have remaining. First, we shall look at the title race.
We can see that while Shrewsbury have the easiest match in terms of their trip to Cheltenham, on the whole Burton have the easier run-in with an average SoTR for their four opponents of 48.8 compared to Shrewsbury's 51.0. With a one point deficit already, tomorrow's fixtures could be pivotal in terms of Shrewsbury's title hope as they face a tough trip to Bury, while Burton play a relatively poor Carlisle team.
There are two playoff places up for grabs between five teams, separated by four points. Stevenage are currently in pole position on 65 points, followed by Plymouth on 64, Newport on 62, then Luton and Exeter on 61.

We can see that Stevenage will be pretty confident of securing one of those playoff spots with a fairly straight-forward end to the season. Portsmouth have improved recently, but Stevenage will fancy their chances, although if they slip up slightly, the trip to Luton on the last day of the season could be a big match for both clubs. Plymouth have the toughest run-in, although that is predominantly due to the trip to Shrewsbury on the final day. Home matches against AFC Wimbledon and Tranmere give them a good chance to secure the points that they require before that difficult trip to New Meadow.

If either of those two slip up, Luton or Newport could be set to pounce. Despite Luton's painful PDO reversion over the past few months, they have matches against two of the division's worst side in the next two games before a potentially decisive match against Stevenage on the final day. Exeter are the big outsiders with two very tough matches against Wycombe and Southend to come in their next two games. They have two easier matches to finish the season, but their hopes could be gone by the time they reach that stage.
Despite being in the bottom two for the majority of the season, a recent revival has lifted Hartlepool out of the relegation zone and onto 40 points. Tranmere currently sit 23rd on 39 points, while Cheltenham are bottom on 37 points.

We can see that Hartlepool not only sit outside the relegation places, but have the easiest run-in. They will particularly be targetting the home match against Accrington and the trip to Carlisle on the final day to secure the points that they require to stay up.

Cheltenham have a tough trip to Northampton and welcome title-chasing Shrewsbury, which means that there is huge pressure on their match tomorrow night at home to Cambridge. Fail to win there and they face a very tough task to avoid the drop. Tranmere have a pair of trips to Mansfield and Oxford and they will be hoping that there is no late PDO reversion for those side. Regardless, they have a tough schedule and will do well to avoid the drop.

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