The 2016 Christmas Football League Report: A stats-based view on the outright markets

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DOES being top at Christmas mean you’re destined for promotion? Can being in the relegation zone when Santa comes down the tree leave you doomed? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) explores…

The 2016 Football League Christmas Report

With Christmas just a few days away and the Boxing Day bonanza coming our way, you can put your mortgage on hearing about the ‘Christmas Curse‘ in the Premier League – only three teams (13%) have survived relegation having been bottom of the table on Christmas Day.

So I decided to have a look for any other trends throughout the four divisions of English football to see if there were any other standout stats for us to be aware of…

Championship Promotion

Of all four leagues that were analysed, the Championship provided the strongest trends at both the top and the bottom of the league.

Over the seven-year spread I looked at, all seven (100%) table-toppers at Christmas won promotion with four (57%) going on to win the title. That’s good news for Newcastle who are miniscule prices to win promotion and just 1/3 (Bet365) to oblige with the second tier title.

You have to go back to 2007 for the last time a festive league leader failed to complete the job – that was Watford.

If your team is currently sitting in the top-three of the Championship, you’ve a 62% chance of claiming promotion, when viewing the last seven years worth of data. However, over the past two campaigns, only 2/6 (33%) clubs have reached the Premier League having sat in the top-three on Christmas Day.

Brighton are as skinny as 1/4 (William Hill) to land promotion but third-place Reading are as big as 8/1 (SkyBet) to join them. The Royals are four points ahead of seventh-place in the current Championship standings with their 8/1 odds implying just an 11% chance of promotion.

Championship Relegation

At the other end of the table, all seven (100%) sides residing in 24th-place ended up dropping down into the third tier. Rotherham are this season’s holders but you won’t get rich quick backing the Millers to go down (1/40 Betfair) or finish bottom (1/9 SkyBet).

Looking at the bottom-three – 15/21 (71%) clubs to occupy the relegation places for Christmas over the past seven seasons have been relegated. Wigan (11/8 William Hill) and Blackburn (11/8 Coral) are in the red zone right now with the Latics looking in most danger and four points from safety.

Burton have dropped to 21st lately and can still be supported at 2/1 (Netbet) for immediate demotion back to League One – the Brewers have W2-D3-L6 since October’s international break, failing to score on six occasions.

In the last 7 seasons:

  • 7/7 (100%) sides top of the table at Christmas have won promotion.
  • 7/7 (100%) sides bottom at Christmas were relegated.
  • 13/21 (62%) sides in the top-three went on to win promotion.
  • 15/21 (71%) sides in the bottom-three went on to be relegated.
  • 4/7 (57%) of league leaders at Christmas went on to win the league.

League One Promotion

The third tier looks much trickier to call. We all remember Leyton Orient’s glorious start to the 2013/14 season ending in play-off heartache and who can forget Barnsley’s astonishing transformation from rock-bottom on 1st December in 2015 to play-off winners in the same season?

It could pay to tread carefully in League One so looking at the league leaders, we can see only three (47%) of the last seven Christmas champions finished the campaign in first with Bristol City the last side to do the business in 2014/15.

However, the promotion picture is rosier with a 71% success rate for Christmas leaders gaining promotion at the end of the season.

Scunthorpe (10/3 Coral) boast a three-point advantage over Sheffield United but the Blades have a game in-hand on the table-toppers and look fair 11/10 favourites with Ladbrokes to take top honours. After all, Chris Wilder’s charges have collected 43 points (W13-D4-L1) from a possible 54 since the end of August.

Include Bolton in the mix and the top-three in the division enjoy a six-point cushion to Bradford although it’s worth noting that only 10/21 (48%) of top-three sides at Christmas have ended up winning promotion.

With that in mind, it might be worth looking further afield with 7/1 (William Hill) Promotion odds on Peterborough perhaps looking like a decent play.

Posh are already sitting in sixth and have W7-D1-L3 since October with Grant McCann’s troops accruing a +12 goal difference along the way. The Northern Irish boss has improved the defence whilst only the top-two have scored more goals in 2016/17.

League One Relegation

At the other end, Coventry are five points off survival but only 10/11 (SkyBet) in the Relegation markets. Over the past seven seasons, 4/7 (57%) sides bottom at Christmas were relegated but with Russell Slade now in charge, it’s easy to see that far from convincing statistic enhanced.

Slade’s never suffered a relegation in his managerial career. However, you have to go back to the dreadful Hartlepool (9) outfit of 2012 for the last time a third-tier side picked up fewer points (16) than Coventry’s tally at this stage of the season

With 15/28 (54%) of teams in the bottom-four at Christmas ending up in League Two, there’s just less than a 50-50 chance on Coventry, Oldham, Bury or Shrewsbury climbing out. But those with a glass half empty might like the look of the Latics going down at 10/11 (Coral).

Athletic have won only three games under Steve Robinson’s charge, failed to score in 13 of their fixtures and managed only four goals at Boundary Park.

Meanwhile, Port Vale (7/2 William Hill) could be one of the teams to slide into the bottom-four. The Valiants signed a raft of foreign players in the summer but have slowly dropped down the standings and W4-D5-L8 since August.

Portuguese boss Bruno Ribeiro has come under fire from Vale’s chairman this week, his side can’t seem to win away and their shot ratio is the worst in the division, suggesting the Valiants are the most dominated team in the league.

In the last 7 seasons:

  • 5/7 (71%) sides top of the table at Christmas have won promotion.
  • 4/7 (57%) sides bottom at Christmas were relegated.
  • 15/28 (54%) sides in the bottom-four went on to be relegated.
  • 10/21 (48%) sides in the top-three went on to win promotion.
  • 3/7 (43%) of league leaders at Christmas went on to win the league.

League Two Promotion

Teams towards the top of League Two tend to sustain their early season dominance into promotion – 5/7 (71%) league leaders in the past seven years have gone on to enjoy a promotion party with three (43%) taking the title.

Go back further and only three (30%) of the past 10 Christmas Day leaders failed to seal the deal. However, the past two seasons has seen the Christmas number one miss out on top spot and promotion – Wycombe (2014/15) and current table-toppers Plymouth (2015/16) the guilty suspects.

Argyle are two points clear of the pack but still ranked as third favourites (10/3 Paddy Power) to go the distance in the Title betting. The Pilgrims are well respected in the Promotion market with only 1/2 (SkyBet) available to be playing in the league above next year.

There’s a strong trend surrounding the top-four with 17/28 (61%) of teams occupying those places going on to claim promotion. Carlisle (8/15 SkyBet), Doncaster (3/10 Marathon) and Portsmouth (4/6 Bet365) have all been kept relatively short in the Promotion betting but don’t discount Luton at a fancy 5/4 (BetVictor).

The Hatters are level on points with Pompey, only edged into fifth-place by one goal. Nathan Jones’ squad have a excellent away record and have suffered just one reverse since mid-September.

League Two Relegation

But the most interesting aspect of League Two’s historical Christmas trends centres around the relegation race. In none of the last seven seasons have the two teams in the bottom-two at Christmas ended up going down.

That will give hope to a Newport side struggling to put their best foot forward despite the managerial change with Graham Westley arriving. The Exiles are four points adrift but do have two games in-hand and for that reason are worth ignoring at 9/4 (188BET) for relegation.

Morecambe’s New Year collapse arrived early in 2016/17 and the Shrimps are market leaders at 15/8 (BetVictor) for the drop. Jim Bentley’s boys are haemorrhaging goals and lost 10 of their last 15 League Two matches.

With only six points separating 18th to 24th at this point in 2016 and so it may be worth backing Cheltenham (4/1 Bet365) to take the plunge back to non-league football at the first time of asking.

The Robins have won only four times since promotion and Gary Johnson’s group have struggled at both ends of the field. With arguably deeper pockets at Accrington, Hartlepool, Leyton Orient and Notts County, it’s worth supporting a side with fewer resources that already entrenched in the bottom-two.

In the last 7 seasons:

  • 5/7 (71%) sides top of the table at Christmas have won promotion.
  • 17/28 (61%) sides in the top-four went on to win promotion.
  • 3/7 (43%) league leaders at Christmas went on to win the league.
  • 4/14 (29%) sides in the bottom-two went on to be relegated.
  • 2/7 (29%) of sides bottom at Christmas were relegated.

Best Bets

Championship – Reading to win promotion (8/1 SkyBet)

Championship – Burton to be relegated (2/1 Netbet)

League One – Sheffield United to win the league (11/10 Ladbrokes)

League One – Peterborough to win promotion (7/1 William Hill)

League One – Oldham to be relegated (10/11 Coral)

League One – Port Vale to be relegated (7/2 William Hill)

League Two – Luton to win promotion (5/4 BetVictor)

League Two – Cheltenham to be relegated (4/1 Bet365)

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About Author

Profile photo of Mark O'Haire

After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production. With a huge passion for stats, the Football League and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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