Newcastle United Relegation Watch: Can NUFC Break 38 Points?

Sunderland known to let the beat....mm, drop? - Michael Regan

We've avoided talking about the R-word as long as possible, but it's time to buckle down and see if NUFC are capable of avoiding the drop. Is their remaining schedule an advantage or a disadvantage?

After a season-long respite from worrying about relegation, Newcastle supporters are once again in the position of hoping to acquire some January assets that will help the club avoid the drop. A combination of fixture fatigue, injury, and plain poor play have conspired to keep the Toon in the bottom half of the table for the last 10 weeks. At the end of the year, the current position of 15th will be safe enough, but can they stay out of the bottom 3?

The traditional point plateau that teams and managers want to reach to stay safe is 40, but the average point total for 17th place teams in the Premier League is actually 38. Obviously, more points = more safety, but it's comforting to note that 18 points out of the next 17 games is probably enough. But is such an expectation realistic?

Simply put, yes. James Grayson took a look at the current Premier League table, calculated the number of points each team needs to reach the 38 point plateau, then looked back at the last 12 seasons to see how many teams were able to achieve those totals. You can look at the table here, which is pretty fascinating, but the long and the short of it is that 95.4% of all teams in Newcastle's position were able to gain 18 points in 17 matches. Expand the sample size a bit (by not just looking at games 22-38, but 1-17, 2-18, etc), and the number actually shrinks to 75.1%. In other words, Newcastle have a pretty decent shot to make it to 38. In fact, all but QPR and Reading, both of whom already seem doomed this season, had better than a 50-50 shot of reaching the plateau.

So what does that tell us? First, that it may take more than 38 to stay safe this year. Second, that we've apparently got a 5-team race to avoid 18th place. (James concluded that "everybody from Fulham upwards" are safe).

Current Table

Place Team Points Games Played Goal Differential
14 Sunderland 22 21 -8
15 Newcastle 20 21 -12
16 Aston Villa 19 21 -24
17 Southampton 18 20 -11
18 Wigan Athletic 18 21 -17
19 Reading 13 21 -17
20 QPR 13 21 -19


There are several different ways we can handicap the rest of the season for each of these teams. My preferred method would be a season simulation, but it's frustratingly hard to find any on the internet that are up-to-date. Happily, Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Soccernet posted one just a couple of days ago, though the full results are not available. The upshot of this one is that Newcastle were relegated in just 7% of the 10,000 simulations. Still, that's only one study and it's not a lot of help, since we don't have access to all the data.

A less scientific method is to take a look at the strength of schedule remaining and examine the so-called 6-point fixtures. Each team will have played each team once, and all but Southampton will have two teams that they have already played twice. Let's take a brief look at each one. I'll save Newcastle for last.

Sunderland

The two opponents the mackems no longer have to face are both in the top half of the table - Manchester City and Liverpool. That's encouraging news for their supporters, but 5 of their 6 fixtures against fellow relegation candidates will be away from the Stadium of Light. They are 3-2-1 against the other relegation candidates so far.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa have already played Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City, both in the top half, so they're feeling pretty good about things as well. Four of their 6 six-pointers are at home, but Villa Park has hardly been a fortress this season: their home record is a paltry 2-4-4, good for 18th in the league. They have the worst goal differential by far (more on this in a later post), and their defense is also worst in the league. They are 2-2-2 against the other relegation candidates so far.

Southampton

The Saints have just the one extra fixture under their belts, against bottom-half-but-apparently-safe Fulham. That fixture in hand looks good on the surface, but compared to the other teams on this list, it's essentially an extra date with a title contender. Their only home match against one of their relegation bunkmates is with QPR. They are 4-0-2 against the other relegation candidates so far.

Wigan Athletic

Aside from Sunderland, Wigan have maybe the best outlook of the group. The two teams they are done with are Manchester United and Everton, and four of the six 6-pointers are at home. They are 3-1-2 against the other relegation candidates so far.

Reading

Reading have already faced Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City twice, so good news there. Only 1 of their remaining 6-pointers will be on the road, so good news there. The bad news: against the other relegation candidates, they're 0-2-4.

Queens Park Rangers

QPR's two teams they're finished with are Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, which is nice. Their schedule against the bottom 6 is evenly split, but this team is equally terrible on home as on the road. Fun fact: QPR have scored more than once 3 times this season - two each against Fulham, Reading, and West Brom. They are 0-4-2 against the other relegation candidates so far.

Newcastle

Like Wigan, NUFC are finished with Manchester United and Everton. Their remaining fixtures against relegation candidates are evenly split. Newcastle's record on the road is second-worst in the league, so dates at Aston Villa, Wigan, and QPR will be nervy affairs. They are 2-3-1 against the other relegation candidates so far.

Based on this analysis and the current table, I'd finger Aston Villa and Southampton as the teams most likely to join Reading and QPR in the drop zone at the end of the season. Anything can happen, though, including surprises from the two we're simply assuming will stay in the basement. It's no fun having these conversations, but the plan for now is to keep track of all the relegation candidates each week. The big 6-pointer this week is Aston Villa-Southampton, so we'll have a look at that, as well as a peek at what we can glean from goal differential moving forward.

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