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How Much do Starts Matter?

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 08/09/2007

AFTER 5 games of the season, Grimsby have got off to their third worse start since 1970 and are doing even worse than last year when Graham Rodger was already struggling at the helm.

Home > Features > 2007 Features > Do Starts Matter

How much does this matter? People tend to say at this stage of the season things like "it's early days yet" and "it's a marathon not a sprint". What I wanted to know is how true are these platitudes and how indicative is a team's league position after five games on where it will eventually end up 41 games later. I decided to look at the past few seasons and find out. It was time to unearth the records again.

After 5 games I divided every season since 1970 into either a good, bad or average start. Then I looked at where the team eventually finished and categorised it as a good, bad or average season. What I wanted to know was how much correlation there was between the start that each Town team had made after 5 games and where the Mariners eventually finished in that season. I also looked at seasons where the manager was sacked in the middle of a campaign, and to see how much the start influenced any decision to change manager by the GTFC board of the day.

After ploughing through the last 37 seasons I have come up with the following tables. It shows there is a strong correlation between a bad start to the season and a bad overall season. Similarly a good start tends to produce a good finish to the campaign. An average start slightly favours a poor finish, but the correlation is not as strong.

Season StartSeason EndManager Sacked

The clearest correlation of all is that between a poor start and the manager being sacked before the end of the season. Of the 9 managers who have been sacked since 1970, 6 have got off to a poor start after 5 games, such as Graham Rodger last year or Paul Groves four years ago. George Kerr and Lennie Lawrence are the unlucky managers who got sacked after a good start.

A similar trend can be observed when looking at the seasons when Town were eventually relegated or promoted.

Season StartSeason End

The good news is that a good start does not guarantee a good finish, and likewise a bad start is not always doom and gloom until May. The classic example of a good start and a bad finish is 2001-2002 when Town were top of the entire Football League in September and Lennie Lawrence was sacked at Christmas. The opposite case of a bad start becoming a good finish happened only once in 97-98 when Town were in a similar position to where they are now but eventually dug themselves out of a hole and were memorably promoted via the play-offs at Wembley.

However such cases are comparatively rare and history shows that the Mariners are far more likely to continue to struggle this season than they are to recover and do well. Likewise history shows that Alan Buckley's position as manager is in jeopardy: 6 out of 8 managers who made a poor start have been sacked before the end of the season.

My conclusion is that it may be a marathon but the leaders at the end of the first few laps tend to be the ones who are there at the end.

For those who are interested the detailed result breakdown is as follows. Only league games were considered.

02-03502317-6224thBadBadRelegated from D2
97-98503248-433rdBadGoodPromoted from D3
07-08503259-43?Bad?Current Season
85-86503268-2317thBadBadDavid Booth sacked
06-075113410-6415thBadAvGraham Rodger sacked
00-01511326-4418thBadBadAlan Buckley sacked
76-77511348-4423rdBadBadTom Casey sacked
Relegated from D3
96-97511369-3422ndBadBadBrian Laws sacked
Relegated from D2
74-755113770416thBadAvRon Ashman sacked
94-955131981610thAvAvAlan Buckley moved to WBA
03-045212871721stAvBadPaul Groves sacked
Relegated from D3
86-875221431823rdAvBadRelegated from D2
89-905221105582ndAvGoodPromoted from D4
01-0253117611018thGoodBadLennie Lawrence sacked
05-065311633104thGoodGoodLost in play-offs
79-8053111073101stGoodGoodPromoted from D3
71-7253201266111stGoodGoodPromoted from D4
78-7954011037122ndGoodGoodPromoted from D4
81-8254109271319thGoodBadGeorge Kerr sacked
90-9154101468133rdGoodGoodPromoted from D3

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