Peter Ayton and Anna Braennberg tested the validity of this belief. They did so by considering matches across two seasons in the English Premier League that ended in 1-1 draws (this, they reasoned, shows that ‘each team was capable of scoring against the other’). There were 127 such instances during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 campaigns. I came across their study while reading Myths and Facts about Football: The Economics and Psychology of the World’s Greatest Sport (2008).
So, is the team that trails to the game’s opening goal more likely to score just after they have conceded themselves than at any other time during the match?
For each game, the time left after the first goal was divided into four quarters. Say, for instance, the opening goal was scored after 50 minutes. The remaining 40 minutes is divided into four 10-minute quarters. If teams are more likely to concede immediately after scoring, then, naturally, you would expect more equalising goals in the first quarter than the fourth. Is this the case?
It is not.
Based on their sample size of 127 games, Ayton and Braennberg found that equalising goals were more common in the fourth quarter (31pc) than the first (17pc) in the English Premier League – the opposite to what commentators would have you believe. I extended this idea to the League of Ireland (only Premier Division games were considered) to see how it compared to the English Premier League. Applying the same criteria, I also considered games that ended in 1-1 draws in the League of Ireland across the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. Take the Sligo Rovers versus Dundalk fixture played in the League of Ireland’s Premier Division at the Showgrounds on Monday 18 August 2014 as an example. Sligo scored the opening goal of the match after 31 minutes. Dundalk equalised after 86. Dividing the time left after the first goal into four quarters results in 14.75 minutes per quarter (ie: 59/4). As Dundalk equalised 55 minutes later, we then divide 55 by 14.75 = 3.73. In other words, the equalising goal arrived in the fourth quarter.
Across the four campaigns in the League of Ireland, there were 91 instances of games that ended in 1-1 draws. Just like in the English Premier League, equalising goals are also more common in the League of Ireland in the fourth quarter (31 games from 91, or 34pc) than the first (13 from 91 games, or 14.3pc). This is the breakdown of goals scored in the four quarters over the four campaigns examined in the League of Ireland from 2011 through to 2014 (total of 91).
Q1: 13 (14.3pc)
Q2: 23 (25.3pc)
Q3: 24 (26.4pc)
Q4: 31 (34pc)
Beware the commentator’s cliché!