Who are the most important players in the Championship promotion race?

With the Championship promotion race moving into the final two months of the season, let’s take a look at the key players for each of the teams currently sitting in the top six. Rather than blandly regurgitating tired tales of Rickie Lambert’s goalscoring prowess or Peter Whittingham’s range of passing, perhaps it would be more useful to delve into some statistics to see how effective some of the best players in the division have been this term.

The tables below show the individual W/D/L records of selected players in all competitions – their side’s record with them having started on the left and their side’s record without them in the starting lineup on the right. Please note that the inclusion of cup competitions distort the figures slightly given that we’re looking at the promotion picture in league competition and there is also some very minor inaccuracy in Cardiff City’s figures due to Soccerbase not holding the lineups for one game. There are also clearly going to be key players involved who play for teams currently outside of the automatic promotion or play-off places, but the line had to be drawn somewhere. Here goes…


[table id=2]

Key points

  • Although their win percentages with and without Jose Fonte and Rickie Lambert are similar, the number of defeats inflicted upon Saints when either of this pair do not start tells its own story.
  • Richard Chaplow’s statistics stand out – if he had been available for more of the campaign, Southampton may have been well clear at this stage.
  • All of these players are important to Southampton, but their win percentage only drops into the 30s when Adam Lallana is unavailable – they have still managed to win around half their games when any of the other seven players listed do not start.

West Ham United

[table id=3]

Key points

  • The Hammers appear to have rotated their centre-backs to fairly good effect, with Reid and Faye seemingly interchangeable without results being affected.
  • The importance of Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble is apparent, but Sam Allardyce won’t mind too much about defeats in the cup games they didn’t start.
  • These statistics would suggest that on-loan Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury has struggled to live up to expectations after the positive impact he displayed at promoted Norwich City during the second half of last season.


[table id=6]

Key points

  • The Royals have performed marginally better when Ian Harte, named in last season’s PFA Championship Team of the Year, has not started.
  • Jimmy Kebe is missed more than most when he does not start, while Hal Robson-Kanu’s record as a starter is surprisingly poor.
  • It didn’t really need illustrating any further here, but the arrival of Jason Roberts has been a key factor in Reading’s excellent recent form.


[table id=7]

Key points

  • Craig Cathcart has become a key figure for the Tangerines, perhaps usurping Ian Evatt as the dominant figure in Ian Holloway’s back four.
  • Both Matt and Kevin Phillips have been lauded this season, but they don’t seem to have contributed as much to Blackpool’s points haul as might be expected. The latter’s record improves considerably when his substitute appearances are taken into account, rising to a 44% win percentage despite the fact Blackpool haven’t lost any of the four games he has missed entirely (W2 D2)
  • Further proof, if it were needed, that Lomana LuaLua is more than just an athlete with a great name – Blackpool’s record when he starts is superb.

Birmingham City

[table id=4]

Key points

  • It is worth bearing in mind that Birmingham’s record is distorted by their involvement in the Europa League.
  • The importance of midfielders Morgaro Gomis and Jordon Mutch is clear.
  • It seems that Nathan Redmond has been more effective from the bench – Birmingham’s win percentage when he plays any part in the game improves to 44% as opposed to 25% when he starts.
  • Nikola Zigic’s record in particular is worth highlighting – compare with the other strikers listed for each team here and there is an obvious demonstration of the importance to Birmingham of using Zigic effectively for the remainder of the season.

Cardiff City

[table id=5]

Key points

  • Nobody needs any further evidence that Peter Whittingham is key for Cardiff but the main point of interest here is that he has started every league game this season. The Bluebirds have coped well even when Whittingham hasn’t started though, despite what that record might lead you to believe. Of the four games that Whittingham didn’t start, Cardiff won three (all in the League Cup) either in extra time or on penalties, whereas these statistics relate to “results” at the end of 90 minutes – as used widely in betting.
  • Aron Gunnarsson is Cardiff’s second most important player in midfield judging by these statistics.
  • Cardiff have won just one of the eight games Kenny Miller hasn’t started this season, while some of their secondary attackers (Joe Mason, Joe Ralls and Rudy Gestede) have been far less successful in terms of securing points for their team when starting matches.
The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. David Hastie
    February 29, 2012

    An interesting analysis this, although it is a very difficult task to properly take account of correlation between players absences, in order to make causal conclusions. For example, player B might have been missing in all games that player A was missing. If player B is actually the more important player, this would also show up as player A being very important. Moreover, if player B had actually missed more games than player A, this might even show as player A being more important than player B.

    With squad rotation and sufficient data the above problem becomes less of an issue, as it becomes possible to isolate out each player. Regardless, analyses like these are helpful as a first stage to develop statistical models and methods that can try to account for the correlation structure and randomness.

  2. Josh Tarrant
    February 29, 2012

    A good read.
    I have really enjoyed the championship this year. A lot of good players especially in Southampton. Lallana and Lambert have been a joy to watch. Will be good to see them tested in the Premiership next season – if that be for Saints who knows.

    I think west Ham will go up – but could almost benefit from another season in the Championship – dont think there squad is quite there yet – but who know.

    Roll on the run in – it will hopefully be epic!


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