As the SPFL season moves closer towards the halfway point in the season, the gap between mid-table clubs and clubs fighting relegation is tight. Only seven points separate fifth place Ross County and eleventh place Kilmarnock. With such a tight margin in the table between so many clubs, advanced stats can give us an insight in which clubs will be able to fight off relegation and which should start to be worried. Looking at the stats at the club level, we can guess that a club like Ross County probably will not have to worry about relegation if they are able to continue producing the numbers they have been so far. On the other end, clubs such as Kilmarnock, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell, and Partick Thistle have produced some numbers that suggest they really could be in trouble. With not only the automatic relegation spot for finishing in last (a spot that Dundee United seem intent not to give up) but also the relegation playoff spot for eleventh place (and likely matching up with either Hibs or Rangers), one player on these clubs in the bottom half of the table could mean the difference between relegation and another year of SPFL Premiership football and the lucrative money that comes with it (SARCASM KLAXON!!!).
Despite being in the bottom half of the table, the likes of Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Dundee, and Partick Thistle all have a player in the top 10 xG numbers in the SPFL. Each of these players could be the key between going down and staying up.
Looking at the Expected Goals over Goals graph, we can see Louis Moult of Motherwell, Kris Doolan of Partick Thistle, and Kane Hemmings of Dundee, and Josh Magennis of Kilmarnock. Partick Thistle seemed like they were destined for that eleventh place playoff spot after the first third of the season, but they have won three times and drawn once in their last five matches to move from eleventh to eighth in the table and the play of Kris Doolan has a lot to do with it. So far this season, Doolan has six goals, all from open play. Comparing this to his xG totals, it seems that Doolan is performing right where he should be.
Going into their match away to league leading Celtic, Motherwell have seen an improvement in fortunes, winning two and drawing one in their last five matches (which in the bottom of the SPFL represents a huge uptick). It does not seem like a coincidence that this improvement is coinciding in striker Louis Moult appearing in the Top 10 xG leaders. Moult has seven goals, six from open play. When we look at his place on the graph, we see based on his xG numbers that this might be a bit of overachievement for Moult. Fans of the Steelmen will hope he can continue this purple patch, though we might see some regression from Moult if he does not raise his xG numbers and get into areas with higher probabilities of scoring.
On the other end of the spectrum, looking at both xG/G and xG per 90 min/ Goals per 90 min can see some players who might need to do more to prevent their clubs from facing the drop. Both Josh Magennis of Kilmarnock and Kane Hemmings of Dundee are having good seasons. Both have scored five goals, all from open play and have xG totals over 4 which puts them in the top 10 in the SPFL. Yet, Kilmarnock and Dundee find themselves very much in the relegation battle because of poor play recently. Kilmarnock have earned less than a point per match the last ten matches and Dundee have earned exactly one. No one would place the blame at Magennis’ or Hemmings’ feet for this poor play, but compared to the other players that make up the SPFL Top 10 in xG, Magennis and Hemmings have been underperforming when it comes to scoring goals based on their overall xG numbers. The Dee and Killie’s position in the table could come down to Hemmings and Magennis and if they can put their clubs on their backs and carry them to safety.
The graph above is the same as the first graph on this post, but I added Miles Storey, striker on loan at Inverness Caley Thistle from Swindon Town. Storey isn’t in the top 10 of xG, thus why he wasn’t in the first graph but I felt it necessary to add him to this graph because of his absurd goal total compared to his xG output. Now, we have talked about strikers in the SPFL over-performing on some of the clubs in the top half of the table with Adam Rooney, Juanama, Liam Boyce and even Leigh Griffiths a bit. In 11 appearances, Storey has a modest xG total of 1.91 yet has managed to bag six goals thus far, all from open play. Storey’s play has seen Caley move to 7th (albeit tied with Partick Thistle and Dundee and only ahead on goal difference), but the striker’s loan is over in January. If Caley cannot hold onto Storey through the new year, they might find themselves in a sticky relegation fight. On the other hand, if John Hughes can extend Storey’s loan or even bring him to the Highlands permanently then Caley could find themselves in the safety of the top 6 come split schedule time.