Updated Projected League Table sees Livingston's defensive play solidifying chances of staying in top six

Craig Halkett, courtesy of Andy Barr (The Sun, Glasgow)

Craig Halkett, courtesy of Andy Barr (The Sun, Glasgow)

written by: @TheGersReport

This is part of an ongoing series in which I will regularly share a projection model that makes data based predictions of the final Scottish Premiership table.  It is rooted in projecting goal differentials for the season & the fact there is a direct correlation between goal differential & points earned.

The model banks points already earned by each club & applies Expected Goal differentials to project out the rest of the season.  For more, check out this introductory post.

As more matches are played:

  • Teams will have banked more (or less) actual points & that will be reflected in the projections

  • The Expected Goals Differentials will become more solidified

This means the projections will build accuracy as each week of the season passes.

Livingston’s impressive victory over Rangers this past weekend very much symbolized the run the club has been on since starting the 2016-17 season in League One.  Working within the restraints of a tight budget, the club has pieced together a squad that’s playing with something to prove.  When Livi dabbled with signing a big name as a player-manager, it became very clear right away that he was not going to fit the ethos of Livingston Football Club.

The club learned from that mistake & they found a manager, whose own coaching career had completely stalled, & who seems like a perfect match for a club that plays with a chip on their shoulder.

Gary Holt hadn’t been working in professional football since leaving Norwich’s coaching set-up after the 2015-16 season & hadn’t managed in Scotland since he left Falkirk in 2014.  What was clearly overlooked in his absence was the fact that he actually did a really good job leading Falkirk in his short time there.

Back in the summer of 2017, I attempted to put together a statistical model that rated the jobs done by Scottish Premiership & Championship managers in recent seasons.  It was designed to measure a manager’s ability to improve the teams they took over while also being able to develop young first team talent.  Like any model, there were some flaws (which I’ll address in the notes section) but I also think that there is still a lot to be taken from the results. 

The top five in those rankings included Neil Lennon, Robbie Neilson, Alan Stubbs (again, see the notes later for the flaws), Alex Neil, and…..Gary Holt.

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The numbers suggested that Holt took over a pretty good Falkirk team (for that level) & made them better. Are we beginning to see the same with his influence at Livi? The updated Projected League Table suggests Livingston has a real good chance of finishing in the top six. Again, these projections will become more accurate as more matches are played…but it is clear that they have separated themselves from the bottom third of the league & will very likely be in that middle cluster of six clubs fighting to be in the top half of the league by season’s end.

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How is this happening? A year & a half ago Livingston was in League One & now they are projected to finish ahead of Rangers & Aberdeen?!?!

As regular readers know, this is when you can parse out these projections by isolating actual goals for & allowed, along with Expected Goals & Expected Goals against to see what is driving Livi’s projected place in the table.

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Livi’s formula to success has been, & will be, its strong defensive play.  They have only allowed four goals this season, which is even more impressive given that they have played Hearts, Celtic, Hibs & Rangers this season.  If you take away the three they allowed to Celtic in the first week of the season…well, you can do the math.

You can also see that their Expected Goals Against projections support the fact that they have what it takes to keep earning points this way.  There are four teams who have a lower xGA & they are Hearts, Celtic, Hibs & Kilmarnock.  The difference between Livi & Hearts’ Expected Goals Allowed this season is 1.34; meanwhile the team with the next lowest xGA after Livingston is Rangers.  The difference between those two clubs is 1.62.  Think about it, as a group Hearts, Celtic, Hibs & Rangers average 1.71 goals per 90…against Livi they averaged 1.0 goal.  Subtract Celtic from that equation & those opponents have averaged 0.33 goals per 90 when playing Livi.

Some other defensive stats of note…

  • Livingston has only allowed two goals from open play…in 630 minutes of football!  That’s tied with Celtic for best in the league.

  • The team’s relentless approach of pressuring the ball is highlighted by the fact they lead the league in both ball recoveries & ball recoveries in their opponents half.

  • Additionally, they lead the league in interceptions & are second to Motherwell for interceptions in their opponents half.

  • Livingston have allowed the fewest shots on target in league play this season with 19 (Celtic & Rangers have allowed 20). 


Craig Halkett leads all center backs in:

Ball Recoveries per 90

Interceptions per 90

Tackle Success Rate

It’s time to start accepting the fact that 23-year old Craig Halkett has been among the very best center backs in the Scottish Premiership this season.

Those defensive stats have helped Halkett become one of the best shot suppressors in the league. Only 28% of the shots & 38% of the Scoring Chances that Livi have allowed have come from his primary zone of influence. Compare those rates to another young Scottish center back, John Souttar who has seen 61% of the shots & 67% of the Scoring Chances that Hearts have allowed come from his main zone of influence.

Livingston has a real opportunity in the next few weeks to solidify their place in the league table as their next five matches are against Motherwell, Dundee, Aberdeen, St. Johnstone, & Hamilton. Each of those teams are in the bottom six in the Projected League Table & as a group they average 0.83 goals per 90.

If Livingston manage to earn ten points in those five matches, a club like Rangers would have to earn 100% of the available points in their next five matches to overtake Livi in the league table.

Who would ever have though a team like Rangers would need a ‘perfect’ month of football to pass Livingston in the league table??

Some notes…

  • This post was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.  Additional stats are courtesy of InStat Football.

  • I said that I would discuss flaws in my managerial ratings from 2017. The biggest flaw was that a manager (like Alan Stubbs) could have his rating inflated based on whether he took over a club that had been relegated the season before. A major part of the rating had to do with improving a team’s results & their play on the pitch (goal differential); whenever you take over a team who is now playing in a lower division — those numbers are going to improve. These kinds of flaws lead to revision & if I ever try to replicate that model, I would look for ways to address that kind of issue. For the record though, that inflation did not apply to Gary Holt’s high rating & I think that this is a really good example of how analytics can help discover some ‘diamonds in the rough.’

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  • Craig Halkett & John Souttar’s shot suppression numbers only include the first six matches of the season…I haven’t factored in last week’s stats yet.

  • This was written under the influence of Sprirtualilzed & Drahla