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Goal average

In sports such as ice hockey and association football, goal difference (that is, goals scored minus goals conceded) is often the first tiebreaker used to rank teams which finish a league competition with an equal number of points. In games with more complex scoring, such as rugby union or basketball, the term point difference may be used instead (total points scored minus total points conceded).

If a team's points and goal difference are equal, then often goals scored is used as a second tiebreaker, with the team scoring the most goals winning. Alternative tiebreakers that may be used include looking at the head-to-head results between sides, playing a playoff, or the drawing of lots.

Goal average is a different scheme that predated goal difference. Using the goal average scheme the number of goals scored is divided by the number of goals conceded. Goal difference replaced goal average in the 1970 World Cup finals and from 1976–77 season in the English Football League. Goal average is also used as the tiebreaker in Australian rules football where it is referred to as "percentage". It is calculated as points scored divided by points conceded multiplied by 100.

Goal difference v. goal average

The different schemes can lead to strikingly different results. With the following matches:

Team A 3–0 Team B

Team B 6–0 Team C

Team A 0–1 Team C

Under goal average, Team A would win:

Team Pts Pld W D L F A GA
Team A 3 2 1 0 1 3 1 3
Team B 3 2 1 0 1 6 3 2
Team C 3 2 1 0 1 1 6 0.1667

Under goal difference, Team B would win:

Team Pts Pld W D L F A GD
Team B 3 2 1 0 1 6 3 +3
Team A 3 2 1 0 1 3 1 +2
Team C 3 2 1 0 1 1 6 −5

Goal average was replaced by goal difference due to the former's encouragement of lower-scoring games. For example, a team that scores 70 while allowing 40 would have a lesser goal average (1.750) versus another team that scores 69 while allowing 39 (1.769).

Titles decided on goal difference

England top-flight

2012, Manchester City and Manchester United (2012)

The 2011–12 Premier League was generally a two-horse race contested between Manchester City and Manchester United for most of the season, with both clubs finishing 19 points ahead of third-placed Arsenal. Manchester City had a poor run of form in March, dropping eight points behind United with only six matches to play. However, five straight wins and a loss and a draw for United meant that the eight-point deficit had diminished, with City going into the final match of the season in first-place with a goal difference of +8.

The final matches were relegation threatened Queens Park Rangers at home for City and Sunderland away for United. City were strong favourites, with United's manager Alex Ferguson stating City would have to do 'something stupid' not to beat QPR.[1]

A Manchester City win would guarantee the title due to a realistically unassailable goal difference. If not a win, then City just needed to better United's result at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland. United scored first in the 20th minute, but City responded in the 39th minute – meaning both teams went in 1-0 at the break. However two goals from QPR in the 48th and 66th minute gave QPR a shock lead against the run of play. Time ticked away, United were still leading at Sunderland, with City needing two goals if United won. Despite dominating possession, City struggled to break through a QPR defensive wall who only required a draw to guarantee Premier League survival.

Five minutes of injury time was added on, mostly due to Joey Barton elbowing Carlos Tévez and consequently receiving a red card in the 54th minute. Play was stopped at 53 minutes 35 seconds, and a minute taken for the referee to discuss the off the ball incident with the linesman who spotted the elbow. Barton consequently received a red card, before kicking Sergio Agüero for no apparent reason and attempting to headbutt City's Vincent Kompany. Play resumed at 57 minutes 24 seconds, and the unsavoury affair consequently wasted 3 minutes 49 seconds.[2]

Importantly, the incident put the match out of sync with nine other matches. This issue would come to a head in the 93rd minute when news of Bolton's failure to beat Stoke, meant QPR were safe from relegation regardless of the outcome against City. However in the 91st minute, Edin Džeko scored from a David Silva corner to make it 2-2. Four minutes of stoppage time remained, news filtered of Bolton's draw with the QPR bench and fans at the away celebrating as play continued with Manchester City in search of a winner. The QPR players carried on playing. Agüero moved forward with QPR camped in their penalty area, and passing to Mario Balotelli who slipped, but managed to pass the ball to Agüero who had continued his run into the penalty area. Agüero received the ball, and without panicking nonchalantly slid the ball past Taiwo to fire past goalkeeper Paddy Kenny to effectively win the title for City.

The match resumed under bizarre circumstances, with both teams happy to end the matches knowing title glory and relegation survival were secure for both teams. Briefly explaining the situation, Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler remarked, "Everyone's a winner!" City consequently won the league with a goal difference of +8 – the first time the English championship has been decided on goal difference (Arsenal F.C. having previously won the title on goals-scored, after finishing level on points and goal-difference with Liverpool F.C. in the 1988-89 season).

England lower division titles decided on goal difference

1983–84, Second Division – ChelseaSheffield Wednesday

Chelsea 88 points and goal difference 50, Sheffield Wednesday 88 points and goal difference 38.

1989–90, Second Division – Leeds UnitedSheffield United

Leeds United 85 points and goal difference 27, Sheffield United 85 points and goal difference 20.

1981–82, Third Division – BurnleyCarlisle United

Burnley 80 points and goal difference 21, Carlisle United 80 points and goal difference 15.

(N.B. in 1996–97 Wigan Athletic and Fulham finished level on 87 points at the top of the Third Division, but Wigan Athletic were awarded the championship on most goals scored, which was the first tie breaker in use in the Football League between 1992 and 1999, although Fulham had the greater goal difference. It reverted to the Goal Difference method from the start of the 1999–2000 season.)


1986, Premier Division – Hearts-Celtic

In 1986, Hearts lost 2–0 at Dundee on the final day of the season, which allowed Celtic to win the Championship on goal difference. Had the first tie-breaker been goal average, Hearts would have won the Championship. Hearts have not been Scottish League Champions since 1960. Ironically, Hearts missed out on the title on the final day of the 1964-65 season on goal average – if goal difference had been used, Hearts would have been champions. At home to title rivals KIlmarnock, they could afford to lose 1-0. They lost 2-0. If goal difference had been in operation, they could have lost 8-0 and still been champions.

2003, Premier League – Old Firm

Rangers won the Scottish Premier League in 2003 on goal difference. In the final round of matches, Rangers played Dunfermline, while second-placed Celtic were playing at Kilmarnock. With Celtic and Rangers level on 94 points going into these matches, the Championship would be decided by which team, Celtic or Rangers, performed best during the final round of matches. If both teams won they would each finish on 97 points, and the League would be decided on goal difference. Rangers won 6–1 and Celtic won 4–0, which left Rangers with a goal difference of 73 (101 for and 28 against), and Celtic a goal difference of 72 (98 scored and 26 against) giving Rangers the title.


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