Blackburn – Overachieving?

12 02 2010

Blackburn’s very negative goal difference may be a cause for concern but they are relatively comfortable in 11th place. While the teams around them have mostly single digit goal differences (both sides of zero) Blackburn are on -17. How can we reconcile such obvious defensive difficulties with a respectable point total, and what does it say about their side?

Goal difference may simply be a means of differentiating between teams level on points but it can also be a useful indicator of a teams performance. On a basic level, at the end of the game a positive goal difference is a win while a negative goal difference is a loss. So it follows that the more points a team has, the better the goal difference will be. Of course this isn’t always true, a side that grinds out several 1-0 wins but suffers the occasional 5-0 drubbing will mess with the system slightly, but it makes for a handy guide.

Around the midway point in the season, goal difference can highlight the sides that are strong candidates for moving up or down the table as the season progresses. At Christmas both Everton and West Ham were struggling, but their respective goal differences were considerably better than those of the teams around them. At the time of writing both have improved their position by at least 5 places in the 7 weeks since then. Admittedly Portsmouth would also have been considered candidates for improvement back then, but their well publicised problems off the pitch have undoubtedly played a significant role in their demise this year.

With the table as it stands now, Blackburn are the only real anomaly in this respect. If we were to believe the goal difference, Blackburn would be a bottom 5 side. So why aren’t they?

Defensive difficulty. Blackburn have conceded 2 or more goals in 50% of their games this season. In these games they have a dismal goal difference of -28, topped only by Wigan and Burnley, and these games account for all 11 of their losses so far. In these losses Blackburn have averaged over 3 goals against and under 0.5 goals for, for a goal difference of -29. Evidently in Blackburn when it rains it pours.

On the other hand, they are undefeated in games where they concede 1 or less. Only Chelsea and Man Utd can say the same. But in these games efficiency is the key word. Of the sides averaging at least 2 points per game when they concede 1 or less, Blackburn have easily the worst goals for average at just 1.23. So while they are prone to heavy defeats, Blackburn have a habit of grinding out narrow wins, therefore skewing the goal difference.

But what does this mean for Blackburn? They have been steadily rising up the league since November, the only calendar month where they recorded a positive goal difference. Despite averaging under a goal a game in that period, Blackburn have been performing like a top half side.

At this point in the season it looks as though this knack for narrow wins and heavy defeats is an established pattern that may well continue. Moreover, it can be attributed to an inability to perform away from home. With only one win and 8 goals in 13 games on the road, Blackburn play like a relagation battling side. Their away goal difference of -23 is 3rd worst in the league. On the other hand they are top half side at Ewood Park. They even manage a positive goal difference in front of their own fans.

All things considered, mid-table looks to be a fair position for Blackburn. Like Villa and Birmingham, they manage to make it count when they do score, keeping the points coming faster than the goals. While the fans might appreciate the side seeing out victories in a little more comfort, having won by more than a goal just once since late November, they won’t have to worry about a relegation battle at least.

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