Fulham’s Defense: Historically Awful

By Julian Ryan

For Fulham fans like myself, this has been a tough season to watch. The team’s typically solid defense which has long kept them out of the relegation battle and firmly entrenched in the relative comfort of the mid-table mish-mash has completely fallen away this season. As a result, the team is languishing in 19th with two games to go, fighting for survival for the first time since this happened.

But just how historically bad has the Fulham defense been this season? To analyze this, I gathered the goals conceded by each Premier League team dating back to the 1995-96 season, the first season with 20 teams. Simply comparing goals conceded gives way to bias because the league is ever-changing so one cannot compare the goals conceded against teams from 2000 with goals conceded against teams from today.

However, if we instead look at the z-score of goals conceded we can assess which team was the worst relative to the league that year. This method adjusts for the increases and decreases from year to year in goal-scoring as the league has changed.

Within a season, each team plays all others home and away so we can safely compare goals conceded between them as all teams have the same schedule. However, there is some bias as each team fails to play one team: itself. For example, we would overestimate the quality of Liverpool’s defense this season as it didn’t have to face Liverpool’s sterling offense twice. To adjust for this, let us assume that each team plays itself twice and concedes the average number of goals its offense scores in both those games, and then calculate our z-scores from the hypothetical resulting 40-game season.

Using this approach, below are the 10 worst defenses in the premiership since 1995. The higher the team’s z-score of goals conceded is, the worse it is relative to the league. The table also includes the teams’ actual goals conceded (not including the mythical games against itself), their points total and their final standing. Fulham’s current situation through 36 games is presented.

Team Season Z-Score Goals Against Points Position
Fulham 2013-14 2.47 79 31 19th
Barnsley 1997-98 2.42 82 35 19th
Derby County 2007-08 2.37 89 11 20th
Leeds United 2003-04 2.08 79 33 19th
Bradford City 2000-01 2.02 70 26 20th
Blackpool 2010-11 2.01 78 39 19th
Norwich City 2004-05 1.99 77 33 19th
Wolves 2011-12 1.99 82 25 20th
Burnley 2009-10 1.94 82 30 18th
Wolves 2003-04 1.92 77 33 20th

By this metric, Fulham has the worst defense in the last 19 premiership seasons. Even though Brede Hangeland has missed considerable playing time, this is an embarrassing drop off from previous seasons. As recently as only 2010, Fulham had the fourth-best defense in the league.

The table does not bode well for Fulham, as every other team on that list ended up being relegated. The Hull City game from this past weekend was another example of the defense giving up two late goals and two crucial points that could have moved Fulham out of the relegation zone. With two games to go, us fans can only hope that the team can get it together. At least we’ll always have this to remember.

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