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End of Season Review: Relegation

15 May 2012

Neil Warnock may have been unjustly sacked, but QPR exceeded expectations under Mark Hughes

For most of the season, Blackburn, Bolton, QPR, Wigan and Wolves were the teams most notably attempting to avoid relegation to the Championship. It’s often hard to assess the performance of teams near the bottom, but the Euro Club Index provides some context on each club’s results.

All five clubs must have considered changing managers at some point during the season, but only two deemed it necessary, to differing effects.

Queens Park Rangers

Queens Park Rangers changed their manager after 20 matches, swapping Neil Warnock for Mark Hughes. Warnock was punished for only one win in 11 games, but his side were actually meeting longer-term expectations at the time of his departure.

For each game, the Euro Club Index provides odds on a home win, away win and draw. From this, we can calculate the amount of points a team would expect to get, on average, from that fixture. By subtracting this number from the points the team actually collects – 3, 1 or 0 – we get a sense of how a club has played relative to expectations. The cumulative difference is charted on a match-by-match basis; a team above 0 is overachieving, and below 0 underachieving.

The chart above suggests Warnock’s QPR overachieved for a number of matches; they were at one stage 5.7 points better off than expected before regressing to expectations by match 20. It makes you wonder: if Warnock’s team had improved from a deficit of 6 points to expectations, rather than declined from a surplus, would he have been sacked?

Nevertheless, Mark Hughes has done a strong job, with QPR’s season swinging upwards after a 3-2 victory against Liverpool. One might suggest that a decline akin to Warnock’s is inevitable, but will happen too late for the likes of Bolton and Blackburn.

Wolves

QPR changed their manager and stayed up; Wolves changed their manager and finished bottom. Mick McCarthy was leading an underachieving team before he left Molineux, and Terry Connor did little to reverse the trend.

Many sympathised with Connor’s plight, but under his guidance Wolves played 7 consecutive matches where they collected fewer points than expected, a run which effectively sealed relegation. Would Wolves have seen such a freefall from expectations under McCarthy? It seems unlikely, though clearly Connor was left in an unfortunate position.

Wigan

Roberto Martinez’s job appeared safe regardless of Wigan’s league position. With nine matches left the Latics were some nine points below expectations, but like QPR their season turned with victory against Liverpool, and they finish the season somewhat remarkably as overachievers.

In the last 9 games, Wigan collected nearly 13 more points than expected, a total that more than made up for early season underperformance. Like Neil Warnock though, the order of events shaped perception. Roberto Martinez’s team were consistently underperforming for most of the season; had such a run occurred at the end of the campaign, you’d expect Martinez’s stock to be significantly lower.

Blackburn & Bolton

At the start of the season, the ECI predicted mid-table finishes for Blackburn and Bolton. Therefore relative to expectations they are significant underachievers.

Over the entire season, Blackburn were never once been above their expected points total, drifting downwards towards eventual relegation. By Christmas (match 17) they were already 11 points below where the ECI predicted they would be.

Bolton fared little better; despite threatening a recovery in March they continued to collect worse than expected results. Manager Owen Coyle may look to injuries as the major source of underachievement.

Bolton’s final points total, some 5 points below predicted, reflects the fine margins at the bottom. The slightest underperformance coupled with surprising results from QPR and Wigan means Bolton will play Championship football next season.

Data provided by Infostrada Sports from the Euro Club Index (powered by Hypercube). You can follow both Infostrada Sports accounts on Twitter: @InfostradaLive, @EuroClubIndex.

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