Busting the Pleat myths one by one

“It’s always difficult to play 11 against 10 away from home,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last month after his team beat Newcastle United 1-0. But managers and pundits often go further, saying “it’s harder to play against 10 men”. That one quote has been a staple punditry line of David Pleat’s for years.

The logic says that if you have a one player advantage you should find it easier.  In rugby union the loss of a player to the sin bin for 10 minutes has an average advantage of 3.5 points, based on stats from the Aviva Premier League.  But in football teams often struggle to break down teams with less players.  Lewes’s own experiences this season of the impact of red cards has been mixed to say the least. In the game back in August against Hampton & Richmond Borough, our favourite referee David Spain sent off keeper Seb Brown and allowed us to equalise.  However, in the final ten minutes we weren’t able to create a threat on their temporary keeper, but in the away game it was 0-0 when their centre-back Joe Hicks was sent off. From the resulting free-kick we scored and went into grab 3 more.

When Billericay Town travelled to Enfield last month for their FA Cup replay, keeper Kharshiladze was sent off with the score at 0-0. With no sub keeper on the bench, a sub went in goal, only to have to pick the ball out of the net with his first touch.  Enfield scored a second soon after then Billericay had a second player sent off.  Despite having a two man advantage, Billericay looked more likely to score in the final 20 minutes than the hosts.

The rule around “triple jeopardy” for teams is due to change next season.  Situations such as Hampton’s Seb Brown will be handled differently.  Today, a keeper can be sent off for “denying a goal scoring opportunity” that results in a penalty and a one match ban.  Such decisions can have a massive impact in games, as we saw to our cost when Will Godmon was incorrectly sent off at Farnborough back in August when the score was 1-0. With no sub keeper, George Brown donned the gloves and we lost 5-1.  Next season such offences will result in a penalty and a yellow card for the keeper.

The belief that it’s harder to play against 10 men seems to stem from the belief that they will retreat back and focuses on defending, making it harder for the team with an extra man to win. But research has now been published that proves David Pleat and co’s long-held belief is rubbish.

According to Adam Greenberg, a graduate of economics and econometrics at the University of Nottingham, a team scores significantly fewer goals and gets fewer points after having a player sent off.  Greenberg’s research was from a study of 1,520 Premier League matches between 2009 and 2013 and published in Significance magazine.

“The research shows that the difference in points between a team playing with 11 men and 10 men is maybe as much as half a point on average,” he says.  Greenberg also found that the effect of having a man sent off differed, depending on whether the team was playing at home or away.  “The home team will actually suffer a lot more from having a player sent off than they would gain if the away team had a player sent off,” Greenberg says “It’s actually over twice as big an effect.”

Home teams won an average of 1.69 points per game when the sides were equal but when the away team went down to 10 men, home teams won an average of 2.05 points per game.  However, when the home team had a player sent off the average number of points they won was over 50% less at 0.83.  Greenberg theory that a home team suffers more when reduced down to ten men because the pressure not to lose in front of its own fans is so great.

Having a defender sent off resulted in an average loss of about 1 point, while an attacker resulted in an average loss of about 0.9 points. Most dispensable were midfielders – when they got a red card, the average loss was only 0.6 points.

So when we cheer loudly at the referee’s decision to send off an opponent let’s hope we already have a lead!

I’m sure Greenberg is now working to put the final nail in the commentary coffin of David Pleat by disproving 2-0 isn’t in fact the most dangerous score line in football.

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