Statistics, damned statistics and even more damned statistics
We’re into a seventh straight season in the top flight now, something that we haven’t achieved since the 1980s. That we have managed to do that at all, given the way in which the catastrophes of the late ‘80s and all of the ‘90s put us so far behind those clubs who had the huge advantage of being early movers in the Premier League, is impressive.
You might argue about the mixed blessings that the Premier League has brought with it but, in the modern landscape, you cannot deny that it is the only place for any football club with any ambition to be. Think back to those days when we had to sell off every bit of family silver – most of the brass and copper as well – that we had just to fund our existence in the lower leagues if you still need proof of that.
So, six full seasons in, just how have we managed to stay at this level for so long this time? Apart from anything else, we’ve employed six head coaches in doing it, ignoring the brief caretaker spells of Keith Downing and Michael Appleton, which might seem counter-intuitive to the idea of stability, but you can’t deny that it’s got the job done.
What is fascinating is the similarity of our home record, right through those years, whoever the head coach is. At The Hawthorns, it’s barely made any difference who the man in the dug out has been, the results have been virtually the same in the Premier League.
In an era where people increasingly seem to love statistics, let’s have a look:
Di Matteo: Played 12, won 5, drawn 3, lost 4, goals for 18, goals against 19.
Hodgson: Played 25, won 9, drawn 5, lost 11, goals for 30, goals against 30.
Clarke: Played 27, won 11, drawn 6, lost 10, goals for 42, goals against 36.
Mel: Played 9, won 1, drawn 6, lost 2, goals for 12, goals against 15.
Irvine: Played 10, won 2, drawn 3, lost 5, goals for 13, goals against 16.
Pulis: Played 31, won 12, drawn 7, lost 12, goals for 36, goals against 40.
If you want that in season terms, over a full season of 19 games, Di Matteo’s record gets you 28.5 points, Clarke 27.44, Pulis 26.35, Hodgson 24.32. You want goals? Clarke would score you 29.56, Di Matteo 28.5, Hodgson 22.8, Pulis 22.06.
The figures that Di Matteo and Clarke put up demand closer scrutiny. Roberto perhaps had the advantage of momentum from winning promotion the previous season and, of course, his stats come from less than half the games of Clarke, Hodgson and Pulis, but they’re very handy nonetheless.
You could make a convincing case for Roberto’s current assistant at Villa Park, Steve Clarke, being unfortunate to lose his job here. That said, you have to say that Steve was the only man who took over a team in a good place when he was handed the reins, where you could argue that Hodgson and Pulis were thrown into relegation battles. Equally, Clarke was blessed with Romelu Lukaku for his one full season, so it’s little wonder we scored more goals.
What is extraordinary is the similarity between Tony Pulis and Roy Hodgson, men cut from the same footballing cloth, playing the same kind of game, both what the pundits would term “old school”. You’d get 0.74 more of a goal over an entire season from Roy, but 2.03 points more over 19 games from Tony.
That underlines the fact that both had rebuilding jobs of sorts to do, coming in at a relatively low ebb in our fortunes, and both have handled the job of keeping us afloat in the top flight in the same manner with the same success rate.
The interesting thing now will be to see if Nacer Chadli becomes Tony Pulis’ version of Romelu Lukaku, not that they are the same kind of player with Lukaku more an out and out goalscorer compared with the more creative Chadli. But both are game changers, as we have seen from Nacer in the last couple of weeks. If that proves to be the case, things might be about to get interesting given that Pulis’ sides give away fewer goals than any of the others.
Overall though, home advantage has barely changed in six full seasons and, as Pulis pointed out in his programme column last weekend, our home form in general hasn’t been good enough over that period, not if we want to be a top ten team. The Hawthorns is ours, we shouldn’t let anybody enjoy coming here. All of us, from top to bottom, need to make sure they don’t.