With the run in to the business end of the National League season upon us here I take an analytical look at those challenging for promotion and how that might pan out.
In order to achieve a non-subjective prediction I have calculated a number scenarios which include both season to date and recent form, xG and xPTS stats, remaining fixtures and difficulty of those fixtures. Additionally I have considered other factors that could influence performance such as new signings and injuries etc and used weighted formulas to factor these in.
Having looked at the current table I can't see the top 10 changing much from what it is now, maybe with the exception of Eastleigh dropping out but hard to see who might replace them, Maidenhead maybe, but it will be tight.
Let's take a look at the teams, predictions at the end of the article.
Despite dropping points to an in form Halifax at the weekend on the face of it it's hard to see anyone other than the boys from Gander Green Lane securing that coveted first place and automatic promotion.
Confidence in the squad must be sky high and that is obviously transferring onto the pitch, however they are heavily reliant on influential midfielder Harry Beautyman's goal contribution who together with Millwall loanee, Isaac Olaofe have scored 24 goals between them in all competitions so far this season. An unexpected injury or suspension to either of these could present Matt Gray with a few problems.
Sutton have actually been over achieving now for the best part of 11 or 12 games and this further suggests that maybe that level of performance cannot be sustained until the end of the season. This is further emphasised by their xPTS chart shown below.
Sutton's expected points based on performance is actually 10 points less than their actual points gained. You would expect to see that gap close again by the end of the season and it will be interesting to see how Sutton go about maintaining their place at the top during the run in.
Pools have been pretty steady all season with actual points very much aligned with expected points. That said, despite their current lofty position they haven't really been pulling up any trees either and having already completed 31 games their above average PPG should guarantee they challenge, but it might not quite be enough.
Chart below shows how close Pools actual performances have been to xPTS.
What Hartlepool do have going for them is manager Dave Challinor who is no stranger to a promotion campaign after success at AFC Fylde and you can be sure that the leagues most consistent team will be difficult to knock off track during the closing stages.
The leagues early pace setters looked unstoppable for most of the first half of the season. However the imbalance between their results and expected performances was screaming of unsustainability and this was compounded even further as Gary Johnson had to contend with a glut of injuries.
It's clear to see from the chart below how Torquay were very much over achieving compared to expected points.
Despite a a bit of resurgence in recent games just 4 wins in the last 13 has seen Torquay drop out of contention for top spot and if things continue in that vein they could find themselves with a challenge to stay in the play off's.
It's been a bit of a topsy-turvy season for The Hatters who started the season as favourites for the league title following the purchase of the club by wealthy local businessman Mark Stott who put his money where his mouth is and quickly went about giving then manager Jim Gannon the means to go about strengthening the squad.
Despite having the favourites tag The Hatters have been a bit hit and miss and more recently had a period where despite creating plenty of chances just couldn't find a goal for love nor money.
The xPTS chart below shows how they have created enough during the season to secure more points than they have done and maybe should be sat with half a dozen or so more points in the bag.
The Hatters now under the stewardship of Simon Rusk have the advantage of going into the final stages of the season with a very strong squad, further bolstered by the signing of well known front man Paddy Madden from League One Fleetwood Town who could help shoot Stockport back into the football league.
The Red Dragons will have a big say in who wins promotion this season. Expected to be challenging for a play off spot Wrexham's stock went through the roof with the clubs supporters trust agreeing to sell to Hollywood favourites Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
On the pitch the takeover has spurred Wrexham into one of the leagues form teams with just one defeat recorded in the last 14 outings, no doubt the new owners dangling of a £250k bonus carrot for promotion is playing it's part in a quite incredible rise in results compared to performances.
The question for Wrexham will be the same as that for Sutton, can they sustain their current run of form or will they fall at the final hurdle?
Close second favourites to Stockport at the start of the campaign, last season's play off finalists were expected to be a major force this season. With a contract extension for play maker Callum Roberts in the bag and pre-season "Moneyball" signings Ruben Rodrigues and Elisha Sam flying in from the continent you would be forgiven for sticking a few quid on the Magpies.
However the loss of Wes Thomas up front for personal reasons and long term injury to Roberts meant Neal Ardley was fighting an uphill battle to replace lost goals and the amicable ex Dons favourite was eventually replaced just last week by virtual unknown Ian Burchnall, a coach last seen plying his trade in charge of Ostersunds FK in the Swedish top flight.
Notts have been finding it difficult to create too many chances this season and have over achieved compared to performances.
Unfortunately a somewhat embarrassing defeat in the FA Trophy to Hornchurch marked the start of Burchnall's Notts County career. However, with the best defensive record in the league a change in leadership and a tweak to tactics might just be what is needed to see The Magpies flying high again.
A change in manager saw a change in fortunes for the Spirites. A very poor start saw John Pemberton eventually make way for new boy and former Gloucester City manager James Rowe.
A few changes to the playing roster and a few adjustments to playing style has seen a rapid rise in the league table for the Derbyshire team who on paper are yet to fulfill their full potential.
If performances continue to match expectations there is no reason to believe Chesterfield won't fire themselves firmly into the play off picture.
FC Halifax Town
The Shaymen have been quietly going about their business and have never been far from the play off mix.
A little like Chesterfield a poor start didn't really justify those early performances and they have continued to improve as the season has progressed.
5 wins in the last 8 games has seen Halifax's results match their xPTS.
One of Halifax's key strengths this season has been goals from all over the park and not just reliant on a talisman to fire them to success. Second only to Sutton and Wrexham on recent form you can guarantee the Shaymen will have a big say in the fight for play off places as the season draws to a conclusion.
The Lillywhites have ambitions of promotion to the football league and this was further confirmed last week when Neil Smith received his marching orders after 5 years in charge and despite Bromley challenging for a play off spot.
Generally their performances haven't quite provided the results they probably deserve which is evident in the chart below.
Chairman Robin Stanton-Gleaves will be hoping the appointment of former Crystal Palace keeper Andy Woodman provides the impetuous needed to secure a spot in the play off's, however it may be a case of too little too late.
Finally Eastleigh, and despite a run of good results in February it's difficult to see past a top 10 finish at best for the Spitfires.
Their xPTS has dropped slightly of late meaning their performances have not been as good as previous games.
It's highly likely it will be a case of making up the numbers for Eastleigh who should just do enough to keep out challenges from Altrincham and Maidenhead.
So how will the final top 10 table look? Who is EFL bound, who will be play off contenders and who misses out?
Based on all the scenario's mentioned at the top of the article it all comes down to this . . .
Regardless of the challenges Sutton face to keep up their current form it's difficult to see them capitulating in the same way Torquay have unless they suddenly hit a run of bad luck with injuries etc.
If anyone is going to catch Sutton it will be Stockport. They are starting to come good at just the right time and if the Paddy Madden signing works as expected they will be a force to be reckoned with and if they don't catch Sutton the Hatters would be among my favourites in the play off's.
Wrexham are another team that have hit form at just the right time and will be a good bet for a top 3 finish, although it will be a close fought affair with Hartlepool, Chesterfield and Notts County all having aspirations of securing a much coveted one game play off semi final.
Torquay's season has quite literally been shot to pieces and it will be a real challenge for them to secure a play off spot although they have rallied a little in recent games. They will be fighting it out with Halifax for that final spot.
So there you have it. Don't blame me if you don't like it, blame the stats. It's very likely that there could be as little as 3 points separating 3rd and 7th place so it will likely be a very close run affair.
Joking aside I hope you've enjoyed this data driven look at the promotion race, of course it could all turn out to be a load of old cobblers, there are so many factors to consider and still plenty of football to be played but it will be interesting to see just how close the stats compare come the end of the season.
Thanks for reading.
Betting odds or form guides are only used as another means to assess current team performance and sporting industry expectations of possible results. Notts County Stats do not endorse any form of gambling or betting industry associated businesses.