This is the Opta Warm-Up, where ahead of every weekend we’ll give you all the need-to-know information and key EFL stats across the Championship, League One and League Two.
Edition 2: 12 October 2023
Dear John (Eustace) Letter
Despite being sixth in the Championship table and winning a local derby against West Brom last Friday night, Birmingham City dismissed manager John Eustace on Monday.
With 18 points from their 11 games, Birmingham have made their best start to a league season since 2016-17, when they won 20 points at this stage. That season also saw the club sack a manager (Gary Rowett, replaced by Gianfranco Zola) despite being inside the top eight at the time, albeit two months later into the campaign. They ended 2016-17 in 19th place. The last time that Birmingham won exactly 18 points from their opening 11 games – 2006-07, they won automatic promotion in second place.
Birmingham’s great start to the season has been no fluke, either. Looking at Opta’s expected points model, there is no difference between their position in reality and that based on the underlying data from performances on the pitch (sixth).
The Opta expected points model simulates the number of goals scored by each side in each match based on the xG value of every shot taken. It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss). Each match is simulated 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in each match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose.
This is of course not an exact science, as expected goals data doesn’t include a lot of factors, such as game state and dangerous periods of possession that don’t lead to shots.
Eustace has been replaced by Wayne Rooney, a manager that has averaged a lower points per game ratio in the Championship (1.15 at Derby County) than himself (1.22).
The Set-Piece Beasts
With a heavily impacted EFL schedule this weekend thanks to the international break, one of the most intriguing games looks to be Wrexham versus Salford City in League Two.
Wrexham have been the set-piece experts in the competition so far this season, both having the highest quality chances from non-penalty set plays (7.4 expected goals) and allowing the opposition the lowest quality at the other end (1.7 xG). Of course, you’d already know this if you used our Opta Stats Hub for League Two.
But this weekend they’ll come up against the most prolific scorers from corner situations in League Two, Salford. Whilst only scoring once directly assisted from a corner, they have scored six goals from corner situations this season, including one in each of their four matches in League Two. With 6-foot-6 striker Matt Smith in the box alongside defenders Curtis Tilt and experienced Adrian Mariappa (also both over six foot tall), their aerial threat from Stephen Mallan’s corners could prove a problem for Wrexham on Saturday – one to keep an eye on.
Wimbledon’s Penalty Woe
AFC Wimbledon are the worst penalty takers in the EFL so far this season. Despite no club among the top four tiers in England being awarded as many in league football as them in 2023-24 (five) they have only managed to score once from the spot.
Only Premier League giants Arsenal have been given as many in league action this season, but unlike the Dons, they are dependable from the penalty spot, scoring five from five attempts.
Three different players have already failed to score a League Two penalty for Wimbledon this season, with James Tilley’s miss at Mansfield Town last weekend the latest after Armani Little and Ali Al-Hamadi (twice) also saw penalties saves by opposition goalkeepers. Since 2012-13, the record for most penalty takers to be unsuccessful for a side within the English top four tiers in a single season stands at five – set by Blackpool, Fulham and Nottingham Forest in 2016-17 as well as Norwich in 2018-19.
Looking back over the last 11 seasons of Opta data, there have been worse teams from the penalty spot than the current Wimbledon side. Fulham missed eight of their 12 penalties in the 2016-17 Championship – the most across this period, while Dagenham and Redbridge missed seven of their 15 in the 2012-13 League Two.
Wimbledon’s terrible record from the penalty spot only seems to be a league-based curse, however. They scored all six of their penalties in the EFL Trophy shootout win over Stevenage on 5 September, a week after Tilley converted his spot kick past Robert Sanchez in the EFL Cup loss at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.
Ironically, it is Wimbledon that still hold the Premier League record for the longest run of games without being given a penalty. Their 91-game run between November 1997 and March 2000 is 19 games longer than any other side have had in the history of the competition.
The Draw Specialists
No team in England’s top four tiers have drawn as many league games as Mansfield Town so far in 2023-24.
The League Two side have remained unbeaten in their first 12 games to a league campaign for the first time in their history, while the last fourth tier side to do so were Forest Green Rovers in 2018-19.
The only issue for Mansfield is that eight of these 12 games have ended in a draw. This is just the 13th occasion this century that an EFL side have drawn as many as eight of their opening 12 league games to a season, while just four of those have gone on to draw their 13th league game that campaign.
They travel to league leaders Notts County this Saturday with the best defensive record in League Two, with the fewest goals conceded (9), the lowest xG faced (10.8) and the most clean sheets (6), while their opponents are one of the highest scoring clubs in England ahead of this weekend’s action.