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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The History Book

With the new season rapidly approaching, Nobes considers whether trends can be used to accurately predict what is going to happen in the forthcoming campaign - as well as making you a little money.

Can history help us spot surprise packages like Blackpool last season?

I'm not a betting man. Quite frankly, I don't have the money to risk nor the mathematical brains to work out exactly what all the odds mean. However, if I was, I would always look to the past when helping me make my choices.

After all, we choose to ignore history at our peril - and the trends it can throw up can often be telling. A close look, and you can see such trends playing a part all over the Football League.

So, if you are in the habit of sticking a few quid on the teams you think might triumph across the divisions this term, how about looking into the past to help you predict the future?

The Championship is a notoriously close division, and its attraction often lies in its unpredictable nature. It makes accurate predictions quite difficult as a good season can often be followed by a poor one the next - and vice versa.

It's a fact no better exemplified by a quick look at the teams in recent seasons who have been promoted and relegated.

In the last five seasons, the winners of the play-offs have all been sides who finished in the bottom half of the division yet managed to win promotion in the very next season.

In the campaign before they each won promotion, Watford finished 18th, Derby County 20th, Hull City 21st, Burnley 13th, and Blackpool 16th.

All of the teams above were also linked in the fact they had a manager taking charge of his first full season in charge of them.

That tag could apply to the likes of QPR, Barnsley, Coventry, and Preston going into this term. It can also apply to Crystal Palace.

The Eagles narrowly survived the drop last season - but were only involved in a battle to survive after incurring a ten point penalty for entering into administration.

However, with their financial woes hopefully behind them, they can begin to look forward again.

With the experienced George Burley at the helm - a man who knows all about making the top six at that level - odds of up to 25/1 on Palace winning promotion could prove to be a surprise winner.

On the flip side, also in the past five seasons, a team who have finished in the top half of the Championship have ended up being relegated twelve months later.

Millwall, Luton, and Colchester all finished 10th before relegation the next term. Charlton went from 11th to 24th in the space of a year, and Sheffield Wednesday were relegated last season after ending the 2008/9 campaign in 12th.

Two clubs who could be susceptible to that run continuing are Swansea and Doncaster.

The Welsh club have overachieved in the past two seasons in challenging for the play offs. They also have another new, and still pretty inexperienced, manager in Brendan Rodgers who needs to bed in.

It seems silly to suggest Doncaster might struggle after they broke their record signing to purchase striker Billy Sharp from Sheffield United.

However, with inspirational manager Sean O'Driscoll constantly being linked to bigger clubs, his departure at any stage would be a body blow to Rovers.

Don't be too quick, either, to suggest the notion of Doncaster being relegated and Palace promoted is too far-fetched.

After all, what would you have said to someone had they suggested a year ago that Blackpool would be in the Premier League in 2011 and Sheffield Wednesday in League One?

Could Doncaster and new man Billy Sharp really suffer relegation?

Another trend in the Championship is for one of the three promoted sides to challenge for - and possibly finish in - the top six.

Leciester were that team last term, and in previous seasons the likes of Bristol City, Reading, Millwall, and Preston all made the play-offs in their first year in the Championship.

Both Leeds and Norwich - sides with strong squads, large fan bases, and talented young managers - could be teams who will feature in the race for the top six in 2010/11.

Promoted sides in general, tend to do well, so it would be no surprise to see the other team coming up from League One, Millwall, more than hold their own.

As for who might go down, almost every season one berth is filled by a team who have been flirting with relegation for a few years before eventually taking the plunge.

Leicester posted successive finishes of 15th, 16th, and 19th before eventually ending up 22nd and going down in 2008. Norwich ended up 16th and 17th in the two years before they went down.

Southampton finished 20th and went down the next season and Plymouth - relegated last season - were 21st the season previously.

Coventry could be the side who fall into that same trap this term. Since finishing 8th in 2006, the Sky Blues have recorded finishing positions of 17th, 21st, 17th, and 19th.

Barnsley are another team who have struggled to make any impact above lower mid-table since re-joining the Championship in 2006. In their four seasons, they have never finished higher than 18th and as low as 20th.

It almost seems inevitable that time catches up on such teams eventually and one season they are unable to finish above that dotted line and escape the drop.

Putting money on one of them to join overwhelming relegation favourites Scunthorpe in League One for 2011/12 could be a smart bet.

As for League One, spotting such trends with promotion and relegation is slightly more difficult.

At the bottom, though, there seems to be a trend for some of the smaller promoted sides to last no longer than two or three seasons before returning from whence they came.

Gillingham and Wycombe were both instantly relegated last term while Exeter only narrowly survived. Stockport, in their second season at that level, also took the plunge.

In 2008/9, it was promoted Hereford who went straight back down alongside Cheltenham and Northampton - both in their third year in the third tier.

By that logic, promoted duo Rochdale and Dagenham & Redbridge - both real novices at this level - may struggle. The likes of Hartlepool and Exeter could also be in for a long, hard battle against the drop.

At the top, it is safe to assume that a couple of the relegated sides should figure in and around the promotion race. Of the six sides promoted in the last two seasons, three of them were teams instantly bouncing back to the Championship.

Last season, Charlton finished in the top six following relegation, and in 2007/8 both Leeds and Southend made the play-offs before ultimately missing out on promotion straight back to the second tier.

I would suggest that Peterborough, despite their poor campaign last year, should strongly figure in the promotion race this term under the experienced Gary Johnson. Sheffield Wednesday also have the quality to ensure they challenge. Both can make the top six.

There is also a trend for a progressive club who have been gradually improving year upon year to take the final step and claim promotion. Millwall and Leeds were both play-off losers before winning promotion 12 months later.

Nottingham Forest won promotion after losing in the play-offs in the previous campaign, Swansea finished 6th and 7th before winning the title in 2008, Bristol City went from 9th to 2nd, and Doncaster from 11th to 3rd in the years those two clubs won promotion.

It would look likely then that one of last season's play-off losers Huddersfield and Swindon plus the 7th placed team, Southampton, could be celebrating come May.

Indeed, history strongly favours the Saints to win League One outright. When it hasn't been won by a promoted or relegated team, winners of the division have come from teams who finished the previous campaign in the top half but outside the play-offs.

History suggests more silverware for Alan Pardew's Southampton

Into League Two, where looking for trends is arguably the most difficult of all. In the year after Rochdale ended a spell of over 30 years in the basement division, it seems ridiculous to say, but promoted sides tend to be those who haven't been in the division for long.

That could mean they've been promoted in recent years, or relegated from League One in the past few seasons. Bournemouth were only in League Two for two years before winning promotion last May, Dagenham only three.

In 2009, Brentford were in their second season at that level before winning the title, Exeter went straight up after winning the Conference play-offs 12 months previously, and Gillingham had been freshly relegated.

It was a similar story in 2008, where none of the four promoted teams - MK Dons, Peterborough, Hereford, and Stockport had been in League Two for more than three seasons.

That statistic suggests that promotion tends to be won by sides with momentum or those who have rebuilt after relegation and naturally belong at a higher level.

Sides who could fall into the first category are the likes of Morecambe and Aldershot - both play-off losers last term, as well as a continually improving Burton Albion.

The second group could incorporate Bradford City, Port Vale, Chesterfield, and Rotherham. Two of those teams could be good bets to finish in the top three and gain automatic promotion.

Sides promoted from the Conference tend to do well. Indeed, no side has ever been relegated in their first season in the Football League. It's difficult to see either of Stevenage or Oxford being involved towards the bottom this term.

More likely, both teams will be targeting a place in the top half and, with the play off winners usually outperforming the Conference Champions, the Oxen may well be the better bet to grab a place in the top seven.

At the bottom, and the two relegation places tend to be filled by either teams with off-field financial worries and teams who have flirted with relegation in the recent past - or a combination of both.

Of last season's relegated teams - Darlington and Grimsby - the former paid the penalty for their off-field money troubles, and the latter followed up a 22nd place finish by going one worse and heading into the Conference for 2011.

The year before, Luton - with their 30 point deduction - saw off field issues catch up with them. They were joined by a Chester team who had finished in 18th and 22nd in the previous two campaigns.

Mansfield and Wrexham were 2008's Football League representatives banished to the Non League game. They had finished in 17th and 19th respectively in the previous campaign.

The two sides relegated in 2007 were again a combination of one side, Boston, dogged by financial problems, and Torquay, who had finished only 20th in the previous term.

Who could those sides be in 2010/11 therefore? Certainly the likes of Accrington, Cheltenham, Stockport, and Southend have had their financial worries in the recent past.

With finishes of 20th and 19th in their last two seasons, Macclesfield are always a good bet to be down at the wrong end, albeit they have shown remarkable powers of survival.

Barnet, too, have ended their last two seasons in 17th and 21st, a trend which doesn't bode well. Both the Silkmen and Bees are two of the smaller clubs in the division and a struggle for either would be no surprise.

So, if you're one to believe that history can repeat itself, here are my most likely tips when looking into the archives to help forecast the coming season.


Bottom half to play-off winners: Crystal Palace
Top half to relegated: Doncaster Rovers
Promoted side to challenge: Leeds United
One relegation battle too many: Barnsley

League One:

Relegated and bounce back instantly: Peterborough United
Making the leap to promotion: Southampton
Relegation catching up with them: Hartlepool United
Immediately relegated back down: Dagenham & Redbridge

League Two:

Rebuilt and ready to rumble: Port Vale
A club on the up: Burton Albion
Paying for their flirting: Macclesfield Town
Lack of money and results: Accrington Stanley

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