Does League Position Matter Before A Derby?

It's one of football's oldest clichés; when it comes to derby games, the form book goes out the window. So how true is it? Well, looking at one of English football's fiercest derbies - Sunderland against Newcastle - suggests that, like all good clichés, there is an element of truth in it but it doesn't tell the full story.

by OrdinaryJon Sunday, 27 October 2013 07:34 PM Comments

It's one of football's oldest clichés; when it comes to derby games, the form book goes out the window. So how true is it? Well, looking at one of English football's fiercest derbies - Sunderland against Newcastle - suggests that, like all good clichés, there is an element of truth in it but it doesn't tell the full story. Warning – those who dislike stats read no further!

I've pulled together information for every derby game since the war, including the league position that teams were in before: have a play the interactive table on my site. 

There have been 79 league games between Sunderland and Newcastle since the war. The most likely result in a derby game since the war is a draw, with around two-fifths (42%) of games ending that way. Newcastle have won around a third of derbies (34%) and Sunderland around a quarter (25%).

Historically, Newcastle are slightly more likely to be ahead in the league before the derby game is played (54% of the time, compared to 46% for Sunderland). However, Sunderland are slightly more likely to win the derby game when they go into it in a higher league position than their rivals (36%) compared to Newcastle (33%).

So how does home advantage effect things? Well, interestingly there is a big difference here. In games played in Sunderland, where Newcastle are ahead in the league (as is the case now) the most common result was a draw (in over half of all games, 58%) with both sides equally likely to get the win (around a fifth of games, 21%). In comparison, the opposite does not hold true; when Sunderland have been ahead in the league and the game has been played in Newcastle, then there has been a draw has been much less likely, with only 38% of games ending this way. Newcastle tend to win (44% of games ended that way).

Interestingly, when Newcastle are ahead in the league, Sunderland have won more derby games at St James's Park than they have on home soil (29% compared to 21%). In fact, Sunderland's win percentage on home soil even when they have been ahead in the league before going into the game is only fractionally better at 30%.

So what does it all mean then? Well, who knows? Obviously, we're looking at historical data and who knows how accurate a predictor of the future is the past? However, if we assume the past may be some sort of guide to the future then, the game on Sun (27th Oct) is most likely to be a draw and Sunderland should ask if they can switch the match to Newcastle.

To see more of Jon's posts visit his website.

 

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