The scourge of the goalless draw

It’s the classic trope wheeled out by those who don’t like football – goalless draws, boring! Even those of us who live and breathe football have to confess we’d rather see a game with goals, even if those goals are all a bit comical, as they were in the 2-2 draw between Man United and Arsenal in the week.

Just how frequent are goalless draws? Mark Lawrenson and Paul Merson spectacularly under-predict them; prior to the current season, Lawro had called just 8 0-0 draws in 2,617 recorded predictions, and Merson just 4 in 1,483 recorded predictions (thanks to @MyFootballFacts and @EightyFivePoints for the data). That’s low (about 0.3%), but how low compared to outcomes?

The featured pic for this post shows the frequency per season (northern hemisphere) over the history of data collected on Soccerbase. There’s been quite a bit of variation over time, and perhaps surprisingly for someone who got into football in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that isn’t the period when the most goalless draws were recorded – it’s actually the 1920s.

We can use the econometric technique of Indicator Saturation to determine shifts and outliers in this time series. The R package gets gives us the following plot:


So we see that since the late 1960s, things have been fairly constant, with (persistent) variation around about 8%. The middle panel gives the residuals, hence the difference each year from that mean level of 8%. We’re on a run now of 12 consecutive seasons with less than 8%, but not statistically significantly less than 8%. If the downward trend continues though, we may be looking at a new equilibrium sometime soon.

The art of defending, maybe, is a thing of the past?


Evaluation – Quick Update – “The Model vs Lawro vs Merse” – Model takes the Lead

The featured image (and below) plots the cumulative forecasting performance of “The Model vs Lawro vs Merse” since round 10  in the Premier League, and as of the midweek fixtures just gone, according to the BBC Sport scoring metric (40 points for a perfect scoreline forecast, 10 points for a correct result only).

The Model got off to a good start, but by round 5 tipster Merson had overtaken the Model, and by round 9 tipster Lawro was getting close (see here).

But now the Model has taken the lead again, overhauling Merson and pulling away form Lawro – and we wouldn’t bet against that trend continuing till the end of the season!



Premier League, R15 (4-5 Dec)

It is Man U v Arsenal tomorrow night. Throughout the Premier League era, surely this has been the most exciting fixture of the season, not least due to the League’s two greatest managers, who had an intense but (usually) respectful rivalry. Utd’s current manager is in some bother, describing his star player recently as a “virus”. After seemingly arresting Utd’s decline last season, the lack of return from the transfer market and poor results this season puts Mourinho in danger of spending the whole Christmas period at home with his family. The Model thinks matters won’t get any easier for Mourinho anytime soon, and forecasts a 1-1 (10%) draw, with Utd slightly ahead in terms of chances of winning the game outright (39%).

Southampton have just sacked their manager – who apparently has been “beleaguered” for a some time, across several clubs and decades. Instead of opting for the sort of safe pair of hands which kept them up last season, Saints look set to appoint somebody who has never managed in England as their new manager. It seems unlikely that Southampton will get an immediate post-sacking (reversion to the mean) bounce on Wednesday night, as they travel to Wembley to take on Spurs. The Model has this one down as a 2-0 (17%) win to Spurs.

The table below gives the rest of the Model’s forecasts for Round 15 of the Premier League:

  • The Forecast scoreline, with the % chance of that happening
  • The % chance of a win by the Home team, P(H), or Away team, P(A) (with one hundred minus those two numbers giving the % chance of a draw


Forecast Win (%)
Score Pr (%) P(H) P(A)
Bournemouth Huddersfield 2-1 10 57 19
Brighton Crystal Palace 1-0 10 41 30
Watford Manchester City 0-2 12 20 55
West Ham Cardiff 2-1 10 53 21
Burnley Liverpool 0-1 19 20 55
Everton Newcastle 1-0 18 52 22
Fulham Leicester 1-2 8 32 39
Manchester Utd Arsenal 1-1 10 39 33
Spurs Southampton 2-0 17 58 18
Wolves Chelsea 0-1 18 24 49

Which English Football League is the most “predictable” in 2018/19?

After watching their defender boot the ball out of the stadium, or the centre forward hit the corner flag with a shot from the edge of the box, lower league football fans can reassure themselves that the reason they turn up at dilapidated stadiums each week instead of the Emirates or Stamford Bridge really is because the Premier League is just too “predictable” (boring).

At least, that is what an unqualified comparison of the Model’s forecasts and actual outcomes so far this season suggests.

[There are many better ways to answer this question, e.g using a range of forecasts including bookmaker odds, or using the forecast density of all possible outcomes rather than just point forecasts. And not least because we have in fact tinkered with our Model design all season (probably making it worse) But you would probably just get a similar result anyhow… let us know if you don’t!]

The table below compares the Model’s forecast performance across all the English Football Leagues and Women’s Super League so far this season (up to date as of 12 noon, 2nd December).

The Model has forecast correctly 53% of results in the Premier League, the third highest of all six leagues looked at, only bettered by the relatively more “predictable” Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship. The worst forecasting performance by the Model has been in League One with just 40% of results correct, closely followed by the Championship with 41%.

In terms of exact scorelines, the Premier League is the most “predictable” in England, with 13% of match scores being forecast exactly right by the Model. Despite being the most predictable in terms of results, the Women’s Super League is least predictable in terms of exact scorelines, probably explained by the high variance of goals scored across matches.

In terms of average “Lawro” points per game, which in effect put weights on getting the correct result relative to also getting the correct scoreline in any match with a single forecast, the Premier League is comfortably the most “predictable”, with on average 9.5 points per game achieved by the Model so far this season (note, tipsters Mark Lawrenson and Paul Merson perform similarly highly on this metric at 8.1 and 9.6 points per game, respectively).

Scores (%) Results (%) “Lawro” p.p.g. # matches
Premier League 13% 53% 9.5 137
Championship 11% 41% 7.8 238
League One 5% 40% 5.6 237
League Two 12% 44% 8.1 237
Women’s SL 4% 73% 8.6 49
Women’s Champ 8% 56% 7.5 48

Model vs Experts (R14)

Belatedly, and adding Stan Collymore to the line-up of ex-professionals picking scores, here is the table:

Model Lawrenson Merson Collymore
Arsenal Tottenham 2-1 1-2 1-1 2-2
C Palace Burnley 1-0 1-0 2-1 1-1
Cardiff Wolves 0-0 1-1 1-1 1-1
Chelsea Fulham 2-0 2-0 2-0 2-0
Huddersfield Brighton 0-0 1-0 1-0 2-1
Leicester Watford 1-0 2-0 1-1 2-0
Liverpool Everton 1-0 2-0 2-0 2-0
Man City Bournemouth 3-0 3-0 4-1 5-0
Newcastle West Ham 1-0 2-0 2-1 1-0
Southampton Man Utd 0-1 0-2 0-2 0-2

FA Cup Round 2 (Nov 30-Dec 3)

The second round of the FA Cup is upon us (in fact it began about 35 minutes ago somewhere near Birmingham). The Model actually thinks there’ll be a shock at Solihull Moors, too, with a 1-0 win for the non-leaguers most likely (16%).

It’s not the only shock the Model sees in store this weekend, either. AFC Wimbledon will go down 1-0 at Halifax (3%), Oldham who squeaked by Hampton and Richmond Borough in the first round (pictured) will bow out 1-0 at Maidstone (11%), Wrexham will win the Welsh Derby with Newport 1-0 (3%), Chesterfield will beat Grimsby 1-0 (9%), and Slough will deal with Gilllingham 3-0 (9%). It could be an interesting weekend!

Forecast Win (%)
Date Score PR(%) P(H) P(A)
30 Nov Solihull M Blackpool 1-0 16% 38% 35%
1 Dec Accrington Chelt’m 2-0 17% 56% 20%
Halifax AFCW 1-0 3% 48% 26%
Lincoln Carlisle 2-1 10% 57% 20%
Maidstone Oldham 1-0 11% 37% 36%
Peterboro Bradford 1-0 18% 66% 14%
Plymouth Oxford 1-0 13% 38% 35%
Southend Barnsley 0-1 6% 29% 44%
Walsall S’derland 0-1 16% 31% 42%
Wrexham Newport 1-0 3% 55% 21%
2 Dec Barnet Stockport 2-1 5% 45% 28%
Bury Luton 1-2 9% 29% 44%
Chesterf’d Grimsby 1-0 9% 45% 28%
Rochdale P’mouth 0-1 7% 34% 39%
S’bury S’thorpe 1-0 26% 53% 22%
Slough G’ham 3-0 9% 44% 29%
Swindon Woking 2-1 4% 39% 34%
Tranmere Southport 2-0 11% 59% 19%
3 Dec Guiseley Fleetwood 0-1 17% 35% 38%

Championship, R19 (1-3 Dec, 2018)

The Derby County fans had fun on Wednesday night, despite seeing their side contrive to lose against 10-man Stoke. That fun was had at the expense of former Rams manager, player and native Gary Rowett, now manager of Stoke. He was greeted with hundreds of snakes, chucked around the stands by gleeful and venomous Derby supporters. The Rams need to get back down to business this weekend. The Model has them down as likely winners at home to Swansea (50%), with a forecast scoreline of 1-0 (17%).

Remarkably the Venky’s still own and run Blackburn Rovers, but you don’t hear much about them any more. They are now achieving Championship mediocrity, and look unlikely to get relegated or threaten the playoffs. They face Sheffield Wednesday this weekend at home, and the Model at least suggests Rovers fans should have something to cheer about, with a 43% chance of victory, and a forecast scoreline of 2-1 (9%).

The rest of our Championship forecasts are in the the table below:

  • The Forecast scoreline, with the % chance of that happening
  • The % chance of a win by the Home team, P(H), or Away team, P(A) (with one hundred minus those two numbers giving the % chance of a draw
Forecast Win (%)
    Score Pr (%) P(H) P(A)
Birmingham Preston 1-0 12 41 30
Blackburn Sheffield Wed 2-1 9 43 29
Bolton Wigan 0-1 13 31 41
Derby Swansea 1-0 17 50 23
Middlesbrough Aston Villa 1-0 14 49 24
Norwich Rotherham 1-0 20 61 16
Notts Forest Ipswich 1-0 17 60 17
QPR Hull 1-0 11 52 22
Reading Stoke 0-1 15 32 39
Sheff Utd Leeds 1-1 12 38 33
West Brom Brentford 2-1 9 52 22
Bristol City Millwall 2-1 9 43 29