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League 2 Analysis - Plymouth and AFC Wimbledon

With most teams having played 17 games this season, we are over a third of the way through the 2015/16 League 2 season. Plymouth Argyle are currently setting the pace on 38 points and have a five point lead over Oxford United, with Northampton another two points further back. Pre-season title favourites Portsmouth lie in fourth place on 29 points, while at the bottom, Dagenham and Redbridge seem to finally have regressed to the level that their underlying statistics seem to suggest as they lie rock bottom. Just above them are Yeovil, while York, Newport and Stevenage are just outside the drop zone and the two relegated teams are likely to come from those five.

Let us look in slightly more detail at Plymouth. It is difficult to find any underlying statistics that support their current league position. Their total shots ratio of 53.7 is the eighth best in the division, while their shots on target ratio of 54.0 is also eighth best. Their expected goal difference is 3.0, putting them seventh in the league. None of these statistics seem to suggest that they should be five points clear at the top of the table. The biggest area in which they seem to be overachieving compared to their underlying statistics is in defense. Their 12 goals conceded is the best in the division, but this is well below the 22.0 goals that they are expected to have conceded from the shots that they have given up. This overachievement is backed up by a PDO value of 114.7 for the season so far.

We can see how unlikely Plymouth's current overachievement is by using the shots data for the season so far to run 20,000 simulations. The chart below shows the distribution of the expected points from those simulations with their current total of 38 points marked in red.

As we can see, Plymouth gained 38 points in just 61 of the 20,000 simulations, or just 0,3% of the time. Their expected points are much lower than their actual total at 25.5, which is still a very decent total and would put them on the verge of the playoff places. Indeed, in 11.8% of the simulations, they are currently lying in the top three and are in the playoff places in 40.7% of simulations. However, they are only top in 2.4% of simulations.

Based on this, we might expect Plymouth to start dropping down the table in the coming months unless they can improve their underlying statistics.

Looking at the underachievers and we find AFC Wimbledon stand out. Currently sitting in 9th in the league on 26 points, their total shots ratio of 61.8 is second in the division, while their shots on target ratio of 60.7 is fourth. Their expected goal difference of 10.8 puts them third in the division. While Plymouth were hugely overachieving defensively, AFC Wimbledon have the opposite problem. Their expected goals conceded of 13.8 is the second lowest in the division, but their actual goals conceded of 23 is letting them down. Whether this is bad luck or symptomatic of poor keeping or defending is unclear, but one would expect this to regress toward the expected goals in the future.

AFC Wimbledon can consider themselves quite unfortunate not to be in the playoff places at the moment. In the 20,000 simulations, 17,770 of them had AFC Wimbledon in the top seven in the table, while they were actually in the automatic promotion places in almost 60% of the simulations. Indeed, they were top of the table in just under a quarter of all the simulations.

Just as we might expect Plymouth to drop down the table in the coming months, we might also expect AFC Wimbledon to move up into the promotion reckoning.

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