The importance of scoring first

Managers and pundits alike can often be found talking up the importance of scoring the first goal, but just how vital is it to establish a 1-0 lead?

In order to find out, I will take a look at both the completed 2011/12 campaign and the embryonic 2012/13 season in the top two divisions of English football. I shall investigate how opening the scoring has affected the final outcome of matches, paying particular attention to whether it was the home or away team that went 1-0 in front.

2011/12 – The Numbers

This table looks at Premier League, Championship and Combined (i.e. Premier League & Championship) data for the completed 2011/12 season. Opening goals scored by Home and Away teams are separated out, with the numbers indicating how many matches have been Won, Drawn and Lost by those sides that have gone 1-0 up:

– In the Premier League, Home teams opened the scoring on 204 occasions and Away teams did so 149 times
– In the Championship, Home teams opened the scoring on 280 occasions and Away teams did so 231 times
– The 40 games lost by sides taking a 1-0 lead in the Premier League were divided evenly by Home and Away teams

2011/12 – The Percentages

This table looks at Premier League, Championship and Combined (i.e. Premier League & Championship) data for the completed 2011/12 season. It is a spin-off from the ‘Numbers’ table above, with the Won, Drawn and Lost percentages relating purely to the number of matches in which Home or Away teams took a 1-0 lead:

– Just 9.80% of Home teams that took a 1-0 lead in Premier League matches ended up losing
– Just 10.00% of Home teams that took a 1-0 lead in Championship matches ended up losing
– Teams that took a 1-0 lead in Premier League matches were more likely to end up winning the game than those that did so in Championship matches, irrespective of whether or not they played at Home or Away
– Teams that took a 1-0 lead in Away matches were more likely to end up not winning the game than those that did so in Home matches, irrespective of which division they played in
– Home teams that opened the scoring in either of the top two divisions had a better than 7 in 10 chance of winning the game

2012/13 – The Numbers

This table looks at Premier League, Championship and Combined (i.e. Premier League & Championship) data for the embryonic 2012/13 season. Opening goals scored by Home and Away teams are separated out, with the numbers indicating how many matches have been Won, Drawn and Lost by those sides that have gone 1-0 up:

– In the Premier League, Home teams (18 times) have opened the scoring twice as often as Away teams (9 times) have done
– In the Championship, Home teams have opened the scoring on 32 occasions and Away teams have done so 14 times
– So far, just two games have been lost by sides taking a 1-0 lead in the Premier League

2012/13 – The Percentages

This table looks at Premier League, Championship and Combined (i.e. Premier League & Championship) data for the embryonic 2012/13 season. It is a spin-off from the ‘Numbers’ table above, with the Won, Drawn and Lost percentages relating purely to the number of matches in which Home or Away teams took a 1-0 lead:

– Just 5.56% of Home teams that have taken a 1-0 lead in Premier League matches have gone on to lose
– Just 6.25% of Home teams that have taken a 1-0 lead in Championship matches have gone on to lose
– A staggering 42.86% of Away teams that have taken a 1-0 lead in Championship matches have ended up drawing the game
– Home teams that have opened the scoring in either of the top two divisions have won 4 in 5 of the matches

Summary

The evidence suggests that scoring the first goal is indeed very important when it comes to determining the outcome of a match. Data from the completed 2011/12 campaign shows us that going 1-0 up is more beneficial at Premier League level than in the Championship, whilst playing at home is also advantageous to teams that strike the first blow.