Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

How have Sunderland adapted to League One?

Betting on Sunderland in League One

How important is home advantage?

Sunderland expected goals and expected goals against

The importance of market value in forecasting results

How have Sunderland adapted to League One?

The steep decline of Sunderland AFC from Premier League mainstays to League One dwellers is a cautionary tale to all soccer clubs of the pitfalls of mismanagement, short-termism, and poor recruitment policies. But what can bettors learn from their story? Read on to find out.

A recent history of Sunderland

Six times champions of England, once more than Manchester City, and a record only bettered by five other clubs, Sunderland are one of the best supported teams in the UK.

Playing in the 49,000 capacity Stadium of Light, The Black Cats had the reputation of somewhat of a “yo-yo club” during the late 1990s and 2000s – being relegated to the Championship only to quickly regain Premier League status via promotion several times.

A recent history of Sunderland






1st (Promoted)


Premier League

18th (Relegated)






1st (Promoted)


Premier League



Premier League



Premier League



Premier League

20th (Relegated)






1st (Promoted)


Premier League

20th (Relegated)



1st (Promoted)


Premier League


Following their promotion, yet again, to England’s top division in 2006/07, the club eventually stabilised and spent the next ten seasons in the Premier League – though only narrowly avoided relegation on a few occasions. A highlight during this period was their involvement in the 2014 League Cup Final – which resulted in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City.

In the past two and a half seasons however, Sunderland have experienced a soccer nightmare – with the Mackems seeing their team experiencing back-to-back relegations to start the 2018/19 season in League One – the third tier of English football.

So, from going from playing some of the biggest clubs in world soccer, to now being hosted by lower league minnows, in the space of just two years, how can bettors potentially profit from such unusual circumstances? Let’s take a look.

The importance of home field advantage

League One average attendance 2018/19


Average attendance





Bradford City




Coventry City


Charlton Athletic


Plymouth Argyle


Luton Town


Bristol Rovers


Doncaster Rovers


Peterborough United


Southend United


Oxford United


Shrewsbury Town




Wycombe Wanderers




AFC Wimbledon


Scunthorpe United






Fleetwood Town


Burton Albion


Accrington Stanley


With an average home attendance of 41,287 during their last season the Premier League, the 7th highest of any top division club, concerns that back-to-back relegation might significantly reduce their support were quickly silenced.

Having an average attendance of 30,015 in League One – Sunderland’s home support dwarfs that of any other club in their division.

Portsmouth, who themselves experienced a number of years in the Premier League as well as two FA Cup finals, are the second-best supported team in the division, but have an average attendance of just 18,128.

While the likes of Accrington Stanley welcome an average of just 2,597 fans through its gates every second Saturday.

In fact, the strength of Sunderland’s core support is best illustrated when it’s compared to that of teams in the division above it, the Championship. Indeed, just two teams in England’s second tier, Aston Villa (33,483) and Leeds United (32,451), have more fans entering the turnstiles of their respective stadiums each week.

But what’s the significance of strong home support?

A Harvard study of home field advantage (HFA) looking at 5,000 Premier League games between 1992 and 2006 suggests that every additional 10,000 home fans add an advantage of 0.1 goals – which given how large Sunderland’s support is compared to other teams in its division, should be relatively significant.

An obvious example of this theory in action could be in the World Cup or the Olympics – where host nations can often outperform expectations, while other studies point to the influence that the crowds have on officials.

HFA is most likely a combination of all these factors, and primal instincts to defend territory. Heightened testosterone levels have been measured in home players, especially goalkeepers.

Entering the Christmas period, Sunderland are unbeaten at home in the league – playing nine games, winning five and drawing four.

However, the Black Cats have lost both of their cup games at home this season. Going down 2-0 to Championship team Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, as well as exiting the FA Cup 1-0 to League One rivals Walsall.

Away from home, Sunderland also carry with them a very strong following – with their opening away game at Gillingham recording an attendance of 8,438. With the Gills normally only expecting 5,604 fans to turn up at Priestfield.

The importance of market value in forecasting results

Despite a combined loss of 34 players from their squad between both relegations, Sunderland have still managed to retain significant player talent, training facilities and management expertise, for pundits to suggest, and bookmakers outright odds to echo, that they should win League One and achieve a result in the majority of their home and away games.

As there is a strong correlation in English soccer between financial might and success on the pitch, statistics surrounding the market value of squads in League One, and even the Championship, makes for good reading for Sunderland fans.

With a their squad of 25 first-team players having a total market value of £20.88m, and an average market value of £835,000, these two figures are significantly bigger than even that of former Premier League clubs Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth.

For perspective, Sunderland’s total market value makes up nearly 15% of the entire value of League One teams. For an even greater insight on the importance of market value in forecasting results, however, bettors should consider using standard deviation.

A measure of spread, we can determine how close clubs are financially, and thus, determine their rivals. In turn, this should give us a good indicator of what a realistic position in the league table would look like for any given team.

In League One, 21 teams are within one standard deviation of their total market value, with all teams within two standard deviations, except for Sunderland.

Using expected stats to aid predictions

For all of Sunderland’s off-field advantages compared to their League One rivals, as well as their generally good form in the opening five months of the season, their underlying performances have been uncertain to say the least.

Judging by their expected output, which correlates very closely to future performances, Sunderland’s expected bright start to this campaign may not be sustainable in the long-term. By November 9, Sunderland had scored 30 goals from an xG of just 16.5 – implying their attacking output will begin to significantly slowdown in the second half of the season.

At the other end, Sunderland had conceded just 12 goals, but rather worryingly, had an xGA of 19.75 – suggesting heavily that their defence had been benefitting from good luck as well as poor finishing from opposition strikers.

By paying close attention to factors like home advantage, market value and expected stats, bettors can have a better understanding of how Sunderland have adapted to life in League One – and create a long-term betting strategy as a result.

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