Around this time of year, football fans across the country start looking for indicators of what’s going to happen over the next two months.
The prophets of doom will point out that their strikers haven’t scored a goal on an east-west aligned pitch since the Renaissance. The eternal optimists will counter that their manager has never failed to be promoted when the year is divisible by 5.
Then you have the form. Norwich are on a roll. They’ve got momentum. They’ve peaked at the right time. Brentford are doomed, their inexorable downward spiral to the West London Leagues precipitated by the intervention of an owner who wants one of his senior managers to look at facts from time to time.
Which of the seven teams at the top of the Championship actually IS in unstoppable form at the moment? Maybe we could look at the points gained over the last six games.
Norwich have 15 – but before the Wigan game it was 18. So their form must be heading downwards. Watford? 13, but it’s been 15 several times in recent weeks. Middlesbrough and Brentford both have 10 from their last six, but the Bees’ line on the graph has ticked upwards while Boro’s took a dive into the Trent.
Then we get down to the dead men walking. Derby only have eight points from their last six, as do Bournemouth (up from only a point per game before their visit to the Royal Oak Fulham Sunday XI this week). Finally, languishing in the deep recesses of form we find Ipswich, with only seven points from six games.
But hang on. The league is as tight as David Coulthard’s jeans. Four of those seven teams have the same number of points, and the other three are within five points of them. Two of the three teams with the worst six-game form sit in first and second positions.
Is there any way of making sense of this? Can the desperate fan look forward to a productive spring? What about consistency?
If we look at how the six-game form has fluctuated over the season, a smoother picture appears. Bournemouth and Norwich are the only teams to have won six in a row – but they’ve also been down as low as three and five points respectively. Out of an available “swing” of 18 points, theirs are 15 and 13.
Watford have shown an 11-point swing, Ipswich can fluctuate by up to 9 points, and Brentford manage a perfectly respectable swing of eight points, from seven to 15.
That just leaves us with the two most consistent teams in the league. Boro and Derby’s six-game points total hasn’t varied by more than seven points over the course of the season. Neither team has managed six wins on the bounce, but neither has hit the depths of despair to the same extent as their competitors.
That’s that sorted then. Just one thing left – who gets the trophy? (The proper League Championship trophy, by the way.) Well, only one team’s six-game form has NEVER dipped below nine points. Hope the champagne doesn’t mess Aitor’s hair up.
Update: you can never check your data entry enough, it turns out. Also, I should stop doing numbers-based posts.
Sadly for lovers of a happy ending, it turns out that Middlesbrough actually lost at Sheffield Wednesday last week, rather than winning as my spreadsheet thought. That changes the numbers slightly. Boro are actually at the bottom of their worst six-game run of the season, with only seven points.
The consistency argument suffers as well. Derby and Brentford have never been as low as seven, and Boro’s consistency record AND current form matches that of Ipswich – so something will have to give next week.