Risky assumptions when betting on goals scored

It can sometimes be dangerous to assume that particular runs of play in a match will be maintained or repeated. This is especially the case when it comes to an early flurry of goals in the first half. When this happens, it is easy to get excited and assume that plenty more goals will follow.

But this can be a very costly assumption to make. When it comes to goals scored in the first half, we must always be asking hard questions, especially of the team that is dominating.

Question 1. What were the expected number of first half goals?

Before any game kicks off, you should always check to see what are the expected number of first half goals. This is done by looking at the First Half Over/Under Goals odds. Let’s take an example:

PSG are playing Monaco. The first half goals odds are as follows:

  • Over 0.5 goals are 1/8. Under 0.5 are 5/1
  • Over 1.5 goals are 1/3. Under 1.5 are 2/1
  • Over 2.5 goals are 8/15. Under 2.5 are 6/5
  • Over 3.5 goals are 6/4. Under 3.5 are 1/2

Looking at the above, we see that the odds on there being over 0.5, 1.5 and 2.5 goals are all short. Basically these odds are telling us that it is extremely likely that more than one goal will be scored, very likely that two or more will scored, and reasonably likely that there will be three goals in the first half. But the odds on there being over 3.5 goals in the first half are long, and for the first time the odds on there being less than this number of goals are short. This tells us that the anticipated number of first half goals for this match is no more than 3.

Now, say PSG score twice in the first ten minutes and the odds on over 3.5 goals in the first half become 1/2 at the fifteenth minute. What are we think? It is easy to assume that if two goals have already been scored and only fifteen minutes has been played, surely at least two more will be scored in the thirty minutes that remain. That is, after all, only one goal every fifteen minutes. But this is an assumption fraught with risk, and it leads us on to the next question you need to be asking.

Question 2: Does the general run of play reflect the score line?

Let’s continue with the example we have just been using. In this case, we would be asking if PSG have been as dominant as the two goals in the first ten minutes suggests. How do we determine this?

The answer lies in the in-play stats. Fifteen minutes have now been played, so we should have a pretty clear picture of just how strong or dominant PSG have been. This is reflected in:

  • the number of dangerous attacks
  • the number of shots on target and whether these have occurred inside or outside the box
  • the amount of possession they have enjoyed

How dominant a ream has been is also reflected in how the opposition have been allowed to perform. In this case, therefore, we should be looking to see if Monaco have been pressing forward with any regularity and getting into attacking positions. Are they clocking up a reasonable number of dangerous attacks and even getting shots on target? If so, it suggests that PSG are not being as aggressive or as dominant as you might want them to be if you are considering betting on them scoring two further goals.

Question 3: Are the dominant team hungry for more goals?

This is a key question, and it should be asked constantly when we are betting on the number of first half goals. We might be satisfied with the answer to question two above, and feel that the stronger team’s performance up until this moment reflects the score line, that they have been as dominant and as threatening as it suggests. But a very different question is, are they continuing to play in the same manner now that they have a comfortable lead?

This question can be answered by observing the match for a number of minutes and seeing if, on average, the team are playing in a manner that is consistent with the stats for the first fifteen minutes. Are they attacking with the same regularity? If they had twenty dangerous attacks in the first fifteen minutes but only two in the five minute period between the fifteenth and the twentieth minute, this might indicate a reduction in intensity. The same goes for shots on target.

Patience leads to profit!

The critical point here is that you must be alert to the possibility that the team that just dominated the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the half might not continue to play (or might not be allowed to play) in this manner. Perhaps they have achieved a lead that they are happy to defend (or, at least, scored enough to justify easing off on attack). Perhaps the opposition will have made some changes, addressing an obvious weakness or gap in their defence that now makes it harder for the dominant team to score.

Sometimes there is no obvious reason for the lull in scoring. You watch as the stronger team attack with the same intensity, but now they are not scoring, despite having shots on target.

The key message here is that patience invariably leads to profit. Nine times out of ten, it pays to wait for the odds on one more goal being scored to become favourable before placing a bet. At this point you should have a strong and almost overwhelming conviction that the dominating team will score at least once more.

Applying this to the second half

We can apply a similar approach to the second half. If a team dominates the first half and scores a significant number of goals, don’t assume that they will do the exact same in the second half. Teams that wrap up the match in the first forty five minutes often take a very different approach to the second half. They might decide to take it easy, to not stretch themselves unnecessarily. They might decide to rest a number of their best players in the second half and give match time to less experienced players.

This is not to say that there aren’t matches where one team utterly dominates and humiliates the opposition by scoring again and again – not only in the first half, but right up to the final whistle. It is just to say that you need to act with caution. Only when you have enormous confidence that the dominating team are going to maintain their assault and continue scoring should you ever contemplate betting on more than one further goal being scored.