The SPL Run-in – a useless numerical analysis

After this weekend’s hiatus for the Scottish Cup semi-finals, the SPL will begin its run-in next week.  While the title has already been secured by Celtic, a number of other issues have still to be settled.  In the top 6, the second Champions League place up for grabs along with the additional Europa League spots.  In the bottom 6, Dunfermline will look to find some form and breathe some life into the relegation battle.

First of all, let me admit that you will probably glean very little about the possible twists and turns of the SPL run-in this season by reading this post. It is very easy to look at the past and make statements about what has happened then, but it is much more difficult to predict the future, particularly with the huge number variables involved in football.  Players, managers and even stadia change, and form fluctuates from season to season.

I can tell you that Hibs have picked up 1.3 points per game in bottom 6 matches since the split was introduced, but that probably isn’t particularly relevant to the current Hibs team.  Nonetheless, I hope you find it an interesting read, and can at least use some of the stats to supplement your own beliefs about what will happen in the last five games of the season.

I set out to analyse the form of teams before and after the split, to see if there were any marked changes.  If St Johnstone are traditionally excellent after the split, while Motherwell always struggle in those matches, then that could spell bad news for the latter club’s Champions League aspirations.  I have also looked at whether this change in form varies depending on whether teams are in the top or bottom 6.  Logic would dictate that clubs will face tougher matches in the top 6, and easier matches in the bottom 6, given the standard of opposition involved.


Overall Form Change

The table on the left shows the change in the number of points per game earned by clubs before and after the split.  The clubs marked in green have picked up more points per game after the split than before, while those in red have earned fewer points per game.

The 6 clubs marked in red include the Old Firm and the two Edinburgh clubs, who have been the most successful clubs in terms of making the top 6.  Conversely, the clubs who have shown the biggest improvement after the split have been those which have always finished in the bottom half.

Given that this table includes two teams who have never been in the bottom 6, and a number of teams who have never been in the top 6, it does not really allow for a proper comparison.  It may be of more interest to look at the change in point accumulation for each half of the table separately.

NB: The figures have been rounded to two decimal places, which explains the slight disparities in the “change” value for Dunfermline (the same applies later).


Top 6 Form Changes

This table includes only those seasons where the clubs have made the top 6 of the SPL, to look at how form changes after reaching the top half of the league.  It is clear that, as expected, clubs tend to pick up fewer points per game after the split than they do before it.  The only exception is Livingston, who are a slight anomaly given that they only had a single season in the top 6.

The worst performers in the top 6 are Dunfermline and Hibs, whose performance dropped by just under 0.7 points per game after the split in seasons where they made the top 6.  Perhaps worringly for Motherwell, they are next, with a drop of 0.61 points per game.  So far this season, they have averaged 1.67 points per game, and if history repeats then this will drop to just over 1 point per game for the last five matches.

They can take solace in the fact that Dundee United and Hearts, two of their rivals for that last Champions League spot have faced similar troubles when reaching the top 6.  Current 4th placed side St Johnstone are something of a wildcard, given that this is their first season in the top 6 since the split was introduced.

I used these “change” values to calculated the predicted final table based on the points per game earned so far, giving St Johnstone an incredibly optimistic change of 0.  There were no changes to the order of the table (the same was true of the bottom 6), so I haven’t included it.

There have been a few exceptionally good (and bad) post-split performances in the top 6.  Celtic are the only club who have won all five post-split fixtures, doing so in 2002/03, 2007/08 and 2009/10.  The best non-OF performance in the top half came from Hearts, who managed to pick up 13 points in 2003/04.  Rangers have picked up 13 points on two occasions (2008/09 & 2010/11).  No club has ever lost all five of their post-split fixtures in the top 6, with the worst performance coming from Motherwell in 2003/04 when they picked up just 1 point.


Bottom 6 Form Changes

This time, the table only includes the seasons where the clubs have finished in the bottom 6 of the SPL.  As expected, most clubs have picked up more points per game after the split than they did before.  Only Hearts and Motherwell have picked up fewer points, and the former is again perhaps an anomaly given that they only spent one season in the bottom 6.  Motherwell have spent six seasons in the bottom 6, so the same cannot be said for them.  It may be that they find it difficult to motivate themselves for bottom 6 matches.

Hamilton have shown the biggest improvement in their post-split matches, perhaps reflecting a style of play which was more effective against the poorer sides in the league.  Partick Thistle and Gretna showed the next biggest improvement, but both clubs had brief stays in the league.

Killie, St Mirren and Inverness will each be enjoying their seventh season playing bottom 6, more than any other clubs.  Of those three, only Killie have any top 6 experience, having been there on five occasions. Each has improved by more than a half a point per game in the bottom 6 compared to their pre-split matches.

No club has ever won all five of their post-split fixtures in the bottom 6.  Two clubs have managed to take 13 points out of 15 from these matches – Killie in 2004/05 and Hamilton in 2009/10.  The latter is more impressive, given that it dragged them out of a five-way relegation battle.  Aberdeen hold an unwanted record as the only side to lose all of their post-split matches (in 2003/04).

About SPLstats
Providing statistics and trivia about Scottish football. Main focus is the SPL, but all Scottish football will be covered. Not affiliated to the SPL.

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