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25/01/2008 No.34
Kevin Pullein
Friday January 25, 2008

A footballer is in greatest danger of being sent off when, by his own standards, he is playing badly. If a big club falls behind to a smaller club in the FA Cup this weekend, the in-running betting will express the belief that parity, at least, will soon be restored. It is at precisely these moments, however, that the richer, more famous club is most likely to have a player sent off and that would obviously increase the likelihood of the score either staying the same or getting worse. Unexpected setbacks breed frustration, which sometimes provokes an angry reaction.


A good way of illustrating this is with examples from the Premier League. The figures that follow are from Premier League games played during the past 10 seasons in which a player from the away team was shown a red card.

Normally these away teams scored 43% of the goals scored in their Premier League away fixtures. In the games in which they had a player sent off, however, they scored only 34% of the goals that were scored while the contest was still 11 against 11. Indisputably they were playing worse than they usually did. And it was not because their opponents were much better than usual - the average league position of the home teams playing against them was 9.5, which suggests they were a fairly representative sample of opponents from a 20-team division.

Even the most gifted players suffer setbacks and sometimes they respond to them poorly. The most successful clubs in the Premier League during the past 10 seasons were, in alphabetical order, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. Overall, they won nearly half of their away games. However, in more than two-thirds of away games in which they had a player sent off they were drawing or losing when the red card was shown. The point here is that when teams are playing badly by their own standards, they are more likely to have a player sent off - and, if that happens, they are less likely than usual to improve the score.

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