The Thundercliffe Files: Start as you mean to go on?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

2 August 2019

Does promotion always follow from a good start, and relegation from a bad one? Paul examines the omens

The Thundercliffe Files

Football's back! Nine months of pure unadulterated joy. Will Town do well? Goals in the team? What formation? Will the black socks prove decisive?

If Town are to defy the odds and get promoted then perceived wisdom dictates that you have to start well. Those first six or ten games are crucial, they say. Well just how crucial?

Looking at the last six promotion seasons and the start each team made certainly backs up the importance of a decent start.

  Points from... Matches unbeaten  
  First 6 matches   First 10 matches    
2016 9 18 3
1998 4 13 3
1991 16 25 6
1990 8 11 4
1980* 10 14 1
1979* 13 19 0
Average   10 17  

*Based on 3 points for a win


Good starts are key with four of these teams being unbeaten for at least the first three games. Bedding in and getting points on the board in those first six games are crucial, then building on this for the next ten. The average points per game after six games is only 1.4 whereas this shoots up to almost 1.7 after 10. Extrapolate this over 46 games you would get around 77 points, enough for the play-offs at least.

It is interesting seeing the two Buckley teams of 1991 and 1998. That barnstorming side of the early 1990s picked up from the season before and bulldozed their way through the start of the campaign. Yet it took that ultimately narrow last day win against Exeter to seal promotion. This was down to a bad Christmas and New year - five defeats in seven - and a nervy April of one win in six.

The 1998 team started badly: no win in the first six, Dave Gilbert panic bought in, and seemingly the Buckley bounce squashed. But all the cup exploits combined with a period of one defeat in 14 (a heavy one to champions Bristol City) which became two in 20 saw a top-three finish.

So a good start obviously helps but good runs in a season will ultimately boost the confidence and the chance of success.

What about a bad start? Does this deliver relegation?

  Points from... Matches unbeaten  
  First 6 matches   First ten matches    
2010 3 10 0
2003 8 14 1
2002 2 5 0
1997 4 8 0
1988 7 11 0
1987 8 13 3
Average    5 10  


Again the average points per game dictates decisively a difficult season. Effectively a point a game would certainly see Town at the bottom end of the division.

The fact that four of the seasons started with a defeat is significant but again there are anomalies. In the 1980s relegations there were average starts with 1987 starting undefeated in three. One win in the last 12 with nine of them defeats was the key to that relegation. Similarly in 2004, there was an OK start but only six wins in the final 29 games, book-ended with Tranmere defeats, ultimately cost the team.

Factor in as well the teams played in those first games. Last season Town played the eventual top seven in five of the first seven games: a tough start in a season that eventually petered out.

So the conclusion is ultimately not to panic if Town don't start too well. If we get around ten points in August and another seven or eight in September, that will be a decent foundation for the rest of the season. But let's not get irate if things don't go to plan. It sometimes takes time for systems and players to understand new team mates and tactics, and then it all comes together with a positive run that ultimately delivers what we all want.

One thing is for certain. With Town it's never going to be plain sailing so buckle up for another bumpy ride.

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