How unpredictable is the English Championship?

The English Championship has a reputation for being a very competitive league where it is particularly difficult to predict the correct scores of games.

There is generally quite a lot of parity across the board and while you of course still get favourites and underdogs the gap is rarely as large as it is in the top divisions of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

As an example, Middlesbrough were heavily backed for promotion in pre-season and have performed well, even going on an impressive nine-game run where they did not concede a solitary goal. This run was surprisingly broken by Bristol City, a team sitting third-bottom at the time. City actually managed to complete the double over Aitor Karanka’s high-flyers in the process.

The Championship has been like this for some years now and in 2012/13 the gap between relegated Peterborough and promoted Hull City was just 25 points. To compare, even this strangest of Premier League seasons already sees the gap between Newcastle United (third-bottom) and Leicester City (top) at 26 points.

To expand on this we can estimate some level of supremacy by looking at the Asian Handicap lines in the Championship.

In only 22 of 340 games played so far has the AH line been at least -1 or +1, which is just 6.5% of the time. The Premier League has already seen the same level of supremacy in 54 of 223 games, which is a relatively enormous 24% of the time in comparison.

Using the Brier Score method, I am now going to look at how many “shocks” have occurred in the Championship this season. The Brier Score uses a function that observes the accuracy of probabilistic predictions.

One example would be Middlesbrough’s recent game against Nottingham Forest.

Here Middlesbrough were backed to win at 1.67, the draw was 3.80 and Nottingham Forest were at 6.00. This gives probabilities of 58.53% for Middlesbrough, 25.72% for the draw and 16.29% for Nottingham Forest when we remove the over round from the equation.

Forest actually won the match 1-0, giving a Brier Score of 0.58532 + 0.25722 + (1 – 0.1629)2 = 1.109.

The Brier Score can range from anywhere between 0 and 2 with 0.667 as the average – anything above this is considered as a surprise result. Indeed, Forest winning at Middlesbrough actually ranks as the second most surprising result of the season, behind Birmingham City’s 3-0 win away at Derby County.

Using this I have created the table below to draw some conclusions about certain teams:

BrierScores-2

The first thing to note is that only two teams have an overall score of over 0.70, namely Birmingham City and Leeds United.

Birmingham are now one of the strongest away teams due to being one of the most difficult to break down. Gary Rowett has done an outstanding job of organising them, so far as to have them challenging for a play-off place. The odds often do not favour Brum but they have a better away record than every team in the division other than Hull City and Ipswich Town.

The interesting thing about Leeds is that the majority of their score comes from them not winning home games in which they are favourites. To highlight just how bad they have been at home, between the beginning of March and end of October, Blackburn Rovers actually had more wins at Elland Road than Leeds did. They won both of their visits there while Leeds only managed one solitary win during that entire period.

Brighton & Hove Albion also have a high Brier Score for their away record. This is mainly due to the surprise factor they had at the start of the season when they came from nowhere to go on a 21-match unbeaten run. Though they have stuttered a little bit since then they remain third in the table.

Another notable figure in the table is Rotherham United’s low 0.471 when away from home. They are rarely expected to pick up points in such circumstances and having lost 10/14 on the road this is consistent with few shock results. The same can be applied to Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic and MK Dons.

Unsurprisingly the lowest score is attributed to Hull City for their home form, with Steve Bruce’s side earning just a 0.428. They have won 11 of their 14 home games, losing just once, and will almost always be favourites at the KC Stadium. However, of the aforementioned 22 occasions when one team had Asian Handicap supremacy of -1/+1 or more, Hull at home accounted for just two of these (Middlesbrough at home made up nine).

In conclusion, using the Brier Score we can see that the English Championship is not quite the mystery it used to be and that “shock results” do not happen on such a frequent basis these days. Perhaps it is becoming more predictable?

Dave Willoughby

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