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A Season Of Two Halves
By: Rob Sedgwick
IF football only lasted 45 minutes Grimsby Town would have been challenging for a play-off spot last season. Instead Town's performance in the second half of games was so poor that the Mariners only survived because of a 30-point deduction applied to a mid-table side.
The Fishy has done a unique study of when goals occurred in games last season and produced the following graph.
At the start of a game Grimsby have one point when the score is 0-0. When the first goal goes in Grimsby at that stage of the game either have 3 points if they scored the goal, or no points if the opposition scored the goal.
Repeating the process for each minute of every game and averaging over the whole season it is possible to produce a breakdown of the average number of points in each minute over the course of a 90 minute game. This is what the graph above shows.
The first thing that strikes you about the graph is how good Grimsby are in the first half of games, when they routinely score goals and appear more likely to win as the half goes on. If the game finished after 45 minutes Grimsby would have had around 67 points, good enough for ninth position (including points deductions for Darlo and Rotherham).
After the half time interval though they go to pieces. After a brief recovery around the 50 minute mark it is all downhill, with a dramatic slump as the game nears the end and the Mariners start conceding the dreaded late goals.
So Town made a net gain of 21 points leading up to half time, and then lost 26 points in the second half.
What is the reason for this slump? Fitness is an obvious contender. Are our players fit enough, are their training facilities good enough?
Are our substitutes good enough? They generally come on in the second half. Are we making the right substitutions, and are the players coming on good enough, or sufficiently "warmed up" to help Grimsby's cause?
Tactics when winning is another likely contender. Teams can have a tendency to alter their game plan when they go a goal up and withdraw into their shells more. This invites the opposition to attack, and can increase the likelihood of the winning side to relinquish their lead.
Finally the dreaded word confidence. Late goals are seemingly a process which shows positive feedback: the more you start to let in goals the greater your vulnerability to conceding them in the future often seems to me. This can be due to the edginess of the crowd conveying itself to the players, or the players themselves just starting the panic when the game draws to a conclusion, particularly when defending a lead.
In reality Town's demise after half time is probably a combination of these and other factors, but the easiest to improve are fitness, training regime, and tactics when a goal or more up. Let's hope Mike Newell and his team can address some of these issues over the summer and in the pre-season period.
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