A Game of Two Halves – Goal Times Analysed

Credit Graham Burrell

In recent weeks, it has seemed as though the Imps have struggled to come out of the blocks, only reacting to a bit of Michael Appleton-infused inspiration in the second 45 minutes.

It led a few to speculate that we often do better in the second half of games, which was something I disagreed with at the time. I think I heard it just after Christmas, when we’d bagged two early against Northampton, done the same against Burton and netted quickly against Wimbledon. As it turns out, those goals on two minutes, four minutes and eight minutes were rarities in a season where the second half of games tend to be more entertaining than the first.

In our 28 league matches this season, we have scored in the first half in just 11 of them. Oddly, we started well in the first half of games, scoring in consecutive opening 45 minutes against Oxford, MK Dons, Blackpool and Charlton, although it is worth noting that two of those were penalties and the Charlton goal came from a penalty. Aside from Jorge Grant‘s penalties, Anthony Scully is our most lethal first half finisher, with three in the league. The ‘myth’ that we don’t start brilliantly is actually true, and I was wrong.

A rare early goal – Credit Graham Burrell

We have conceded in the first half in ten matches this season, but never for three matches in a row. Only once have we conceded more than one in the first half of a game, that as we were roundly beaten 4-0 by Sunderland at Sincil Bank. In fact, the odds are that our matches will end 0-0 at the break, with us averaging 0.46 goals per game, and the opposition slightly worse off on 0.43. Factoring in xG, we are actually more wasteful than our opponents, but again even expected goals is not high. Our xG for the first half of games is 0.65, whilst the oppositions is just 0.55.

Drilling down a little further, it seems that scoring at home in the first half is even more of a problem. We have done so on just three occasions, Charlton and Oxford at the beginning of the season, and that rout of Burton where we bagged two in quick succession. those three games are the only time we have scored in the first half of games at home this season. Don’t fret if you can’t get iFollow to work until 30 minutes or so tomorrow night, because the stats suggest you won’t miss much, apart from a possible away goal. Six of the ten first-half goals we have conceded have come at home.

Two in the first half? Unheard of! – Credit Graham Burrell

Naturally, that makes us far more deadly in the second half of games, with only eight blank second halves throughout the season. We have bagged 29 times in the second half of matches, and have conceded just eleven. There is no doubt at all we are better in the final 45, with our xG up to 0.95 and our opponents lower than the first half of games at 0.5. That means that statistically, betting on the Imps to win 1-0 with a second-half goal would be the wisest general bet to place. Here’s the craziest stat of the whole piece – we have only conceded in the second half away from home (in the league) twice this season, in our opening two away matches. I know we have a good record away from home, but that is a phenomenal stat.

Oddly, our record at home in the second half points a little to nerves. Opponents have scored nine second-half goals against us this season at the Bank, averaging 0.64 goals per game, but their xG has only been 0.49. Whilst we underperform defensively in the second half at home, we do outperform our xG, scoring 1.21 goals from an xG of 1.05. It means from all of these numbers, we are more likely to win 1-0 at home with a second-half goal than any other result. Even more curious is that we have only actually won 1-0 at home this season on one occasion, against Ipswich. The goal did come in the second half.

1-0, the most likely outcome which has only happened once at home – Credit Graham Burrell

So, we know we are more likely to score in the second half of games, but what times are the most prolific for the Imps? If we take the halves in three segments, 46-60, 61-75 and 76-90, we see an interesting spread again. We don’t start games brilliantly in terms of goals, and we don’t start the second half brilliantly either. Of the 29 second-half goals we have scored, only six have come before the hour mark (Bristol Rovers, Plymouth, Burton, Peterborough, Gillingham and Accrington), and curiously five of those have been in home matches. A further nine have come between 61 and 75 minutes, with 14 goals coming in the final 15 minutes across 11 matches.

That means the Imps have scored more goals in the final 15 minutes of matches this season than they have in every first half. It’s an unusual statistic, is it not? Surely, it isn’t normal that a team can score more goals when legs are meant to be tired, than they can in three times as long when fresh as a daisy at the start of a game? It certainly points to the team’s ‘never-say-die’ character, if nothing else. Curiously, do you recall the 2016/17 season? The one where we were famed for last-gasp goals and late surges? The one where our supreme fitness got us over the line? In that whole season, we scored 16 goals in the last 15 minutes of games, two fewer than this season but having played 46 matches, not 28.

The best last-minute league goal in recent memory? – Courtesy Graham Burrell

There is no real moral to this story, nothing groundbreaking you are likely to conclude, other than the fact we really do score more in the last 15 minutes than we do in the first 45. Basically, if we’re looking down and out with 15 minutes to go, pull the phone out (if you like a gamble) and lump on the Imps to be the next goalscorer.

Also, if you see a game heading to 0-0 on 60 minutes and can’t see a goal coming from anywhere, have faith. The Imps stick to the gameplan, keep doing the right things the right way and it seems to pay off, albeit a little late for my nerves sometimes.