Given football is a low-scoring game and goals are rare, understanding how the first goal impacts both the result and odds is key to finding football betting value, and recognising in-play trading opportunities. Learn how to predict the outcome more accurately once the first goal has been scored for your football trading strategy.
How rare are goals in football?
As mentioned, football is generally a low-scoring contest compared to most other sports and therefore goals are by far the most important occurrences in a game.
For example, Anderson & Sally (2013) identify that on average in American football, there is a score every nine minutes, 12.5 minutes in rugby and every 22 minutes in ice hockey. Football, however, sees a team score once every 69 minutes.
Looking at the Premier League as an example, between the 2007/08 and 2016/17 seasons each game saw on average 2.71 goals - this has been very consistent, with the lowest being 2.5 in 2008/09, while the highest was 2.8 in five different seasons.
By using historical data bettors can predict more accurately the probability that the team who has scored or conceded the first goal will win the match. This then allows you to recognise numerous in-play betting or trading strategies.
Who scores the first goal?
For a team to win a football match, they obviously need to score a goal. Let's see who is more likely to score first.
We have looked at three seasons of Premier League data to see whether the home or away team scored first on average. From this data set, 89 games or 7.8% of games finished goalless and were removed.
On average the home team scored first 57.8% of the time, while the away team netted the opener 43.2% of the time - understand home advantage in football and what factors affect it.
This gives us a decent understanding of who scores first, but we should also look at team strength and see if there is a correlation between scoring first in football.
Note: For the purpose of this article team strength is calculated as the final season finishing position. All data is for the Premier League between 2014/15 - 2016/17 seasons.
On average the strongest five teams in the Premier League score first 67.7% of the time, while the weakest take the lead in 35.14% of games - showing the strongest team is almost twice as likely to open the scoring.
What time is the first goal?
Now we can look at what time the first goal is scored. Our data set suggests the first goal is scored on average 30.67% of the time in the first 15 minutes of a football game and 75.2% of the time in the first half of a football game.
How the first goal impacts the result in football
On average between the 2014/15 - 2016/17 Premier League seasons, the team that scored the first goal won 70% of matches, with a draw resulting in 18.48% of games and a loss in just 11.52% of games. This suggests there is a strong correlation between scoring the first goal and winning a football match.
The chart below breaks this further down by home and away teams. It highlights that scoring first at home suggests a team will go on to win the game 74.30% of games compared to 64.11% when scoring first as the away team - a difference of over 10%. So scoring the first goal at home is more valuable.
Understanding how a team's chances of winning improve when a goal is scored is valuable information for live football trading.
For example, if the home team scores the first goal their chances of winning are increased on average by 25%. If they score the first goal (as mentioned above they do 57.8% of the time), the market will adjust the odds to reflect around a 75% chance of winning.
Therefore if you backed the home team prior to kick off, you could trade out once the first goal is scored to lock in a 25% profit.
How significant is the time of the first goal on the football result?
On average if a team scores in the first 15 minutes of a game, they have a 63.98% chance of winning, an 18.94% chance of drawing and will lose 17.08% of games.
Clearly the later a team scores the opening goal, the more valuable it is. If the opening goal was scored between the 76th and 90th minutes, the scorers would go on to win 87.5% of games.
The two graphs below show how teams’ implied probabilities of victory change over time depending if the first goalscorers were at home or away.
Again it shows a home advantage - a home team scoring the first goal in the opening half will go on to win 71% of the time in comparison to 54% for the away team.
Interestingly, if the opening goal is scored in the second half the home team’s win % improves to 83.3%, but the away team rockets up to 80% - a difference of just 3.3%. Is this a suggestion the home advantage is rapidly eradicated after the first half?
Let’s look at how we can use this data for live football trading. If you back a big outsider before the game, the odds will remain fairly flat if the game remains 0-0 in the first half.
If the away team scores first before half-time then the odds will move significantly and you have a very profitable trade. If the game remains at 0-0 at half-time, the odds will shorten on the outsider during the second half, again presenting an opportunity to trade out for a profit.
How team ability affects the result after the first goal
Of course, not all teams are equal, and bettors should also be aware of how team strength impacts the result after the first goal.
We split our data into four bands based on each team's final league position. The tables below show how each of the percentages of wins, draws and defeats vary greatly depending on the strength of the team.
Scoring the first goal
Let’s look first how results vary by team strength and whether or not a team is at home or away if they score the first goal.
On average if a top-five team takes the lead then they win the match over eight times (80.83%) every ten games; this increases to 86.29% at home and drops to 74.23% when playing away.
Let’s compare this to the bottom five clubs. They win on average 58.79% of the time when scoring first. This increases to a win about every six games (63.9%) in ten when at home, and falls to just over 50% when away.
Conceding the first goal
Live football bettors should also be aware of how a team can respond when conceding the first goal. The total percentages for wins, draws or losses are displayed below for teams conceding first both home and away.
Data here shows that when conceding first, top-ranked teams will not lose the game on average 53.49% of the time. At home this rises to three out of five games, while away they will lose if they concede first 51.43% of the time - a difference of around 34-40% when compared to the weakest five teams.
Live football bettors can use this information to predict the likelihood of a team winning, drawing or losing depending on the scorers of the first goal, and whether or not they are home or away.
Apply this to betting
The data above is a basis for you to help build your own live football trading strategy and should be used as a guide only, to identify value in the odds when comparing your data to the odds offered once the first goal goes in. Having knowledge of what happens after the first goal is scored in football should be on every traders mind.
Next, learn how to calculate expected goals in football, understand the impact of home advantage and bet with the best football odds - which is what Smarkets offer with our industry-low 2% commission.