The 12-game review that shows history and numbers are on Sunderland’s side in automatic promotion push

BCFC 1-2 SAFC EFL League 1 06-10-2018. Picture by FRANK REID
BCFC 1-2 SAFC EFL League 1 06-10-2018. Picture by FRANK REID
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A win in Bradford was a welcome boost for Sunderland as they headed into the international break.

Draws with Coventry City and Peterborough United had brought positives and frustration in equal measure, but to see out the game with ten men was testament to the character of the squad and also went some way to allaying a few defensive concerns.

After ten games, Ross admitted he was frustrated with progress on the pitch.

He has suggested that two points a game is promotion pace and so after 12 games, Sunderland are close but just short of where they want to be.

Few would quibble with that assessment.

But how does their form compare to teams who have gone up in years gone by?

We reviewed the table after 12 games in the last ten seasons to see what history tells us about the third tier.

2017/18

CHAMPIONS: Wigan Athletic (28 points)

RUNNERS-UP: Blackburn Rovers (20 points)

Wigan Athletic were the League One champions last season but after twelve games they were still off the pace set by Paul Hurst’s Shrewsbury Town.

Shrewsbury fell away slightly, but could probably consider themselves unfortunate not to finish in the top two, amassing an impressive 87 points on a meagre budget.

Wigan, revitalised under Paul Cook, set an impressive pace right from the start but Sunderland can take comfort from Blackburn Rovers.

After a summer of significant overhaul, they took their time to really hit their stride but their quality eventually told.

2016/17

CHAMPIONS: Sheffield United (21 points)

RUNNERS-UP: Bolton Wanderers (19 points)

Another season that shows a mixed start does not have to define a promotion winner.

Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United were labouring in the opening weeks, well off the pace set by Scunthorpe United.

Their twelth game, by which point they had already drawn three and lost three, saw them run out 4-0 winners at home to Port Vale.

From there they were unstoppable, winning the league with over 100 points.

Bolton, too, made a sluggish start before edging their way to second.

2015/16

CHAMPIONS: Wigan Athletic (17 points)

RUNNERS-UP: Burton Albion (25 points)

Relegation from the Championship has often led to a slow start the following season.

But Wigan, like Blackburn, showed that extra class can soon show.

They had won just four over their opening twelve games under Gary Caldwell, but went on to be crowned champions. Their tally of 87 points was below the average, however.

Burton, who had conceded only nine goals by this point, were consistent challengers from day one.

2014/15

CHAMPIONS: Bristol City (28 points)

RUNNERS-UP: MK Dons (23 points)

This was a rare example of a team setting a ferocious pace and sticking to it.

They were not quite able to beat the 100 point mark, finishing on 99.

Under former Sunderland assistant Steve Cotterill they were excellent, with the likes of Joe Bryan, Bobby Reid and Aden Flint all going to thrive at a higher level.
Remarkably, MK Dons finished a fairly distant second despite scoring 101 goals.

2013/14

CHAMPIONS: Wolves (29 points)

RUNNERS-UP: Brentford (18 points)

Perhaps ominously for Sunderland, manager of Wolves as they bounced back from the third tier was Kenny Jackett. Their points haul at this stage is eye-catching, but they were not even top of the table. Leyton Orient had an incredible 32 in the bag before falling away dramatically.

Jackett is now in charge of table-topping Portsmouth as he looks to shepherd another fallen giant back to the top tiers.

Portsmouth are short of the goalscoring pace set by his Wolves side but their defensive record is excellent.

They have conceded just ten times, though Barnsley and Blackpool impressively have let in just seven and nine respectively.

Other notable seasons

The five seasons previous to those analysed above differ slightly in that three of the sides to be top after 12 games went to on to seal the title.

Leeds, Brighton and Charlton all set the early pace and went on to seal promotion.

Two significant outliers catch the eye, however.

Bournemouth were languishing near the relegation zone in October 2012 with just 11 points and having shipped 21 goals. They rallied to finish second.

Two season previous, Southampton finished second despite having just 12 points from their first twelve games.

And though they did not seal automatic promotion, Barnsley showed what can be achieved with a long winning run when they went from third bottom at Christmas to sixth, winning a spot in the second tier through the play-offs.

Key trends

Sunderland can take heart from the fact that in the last ten seasons, only four of the sides top of the table after 12 games went on to win the league.

Their points haul of 23 is better than ten of the sides to win automatic promotion in that time, and level with another, while their goal tally of 24 is bettered by only four teams.

Defensively they have been less impressive, but their 13 goals conceded is not wildly behind the average.

Of the 20 to go up automatically in the last ten campaigns, Sunderland’s record is bettered by 11.

So for Sunderland the signs are encouraging.

After 12 games they are perhaps slightly behind where they would like to be.

But the platform has been set and should they find some extra momentum over the winter months, history suggests they were well placed for a successful campaign.

Of course, Barnsley, who many see as the best team in the league, will be thinking much the same and their 4-0 demolition of Peterborough suggested they are getting ready to flex their muscles.