Explained: Why Exeter Sit Above Bolton in League One

  • August 06, 2023 | By Chris Mann
  • URL Short URL: http://b-ac.es/d7413

Confusion reigned supreme on Saturday evening as Exeter City, with the same points and goal difference, placed above Bolton in the League One table.

Wanderers began the new campaign in style at the Toughsheet Community Stadium, registering their biggest opening-day win since 2011 as they brushed aside Lincoln City 3-0, while Exeter won by the same scoreline at Wycombe Wanderers.

While early league standings pose as little more than an opportunity for supporters of the leading club to post screenshots for bragging rights on social media - Barnsley getting that honour courtesy of a 7-0 thrashing of Port Vale - it also serves as one of those rare occasions where things don't quite seem to make total sense.

For instance, Charlton Athletic and Peterborough United were two of four clubs to pick up a 1-0 victory, yet the Addicks sit two places below Posh when many would expect the table to show the opposite.

After all, alphabetical order is the rule of thumb, right? Well, that's not exactly the case, as we explain below:

Method of Determining League Positions

We all know by now that league tables, regardless of division, sport, or any other general activity, are determined using a points-based system.

Since 1981, English clubs have collected three points for winning a game of football, or one in the event of a draw. Teams are then ranked in descending order, with goal difference - subtracting the number of goals conceded from those scored - taking effect if points are level.

If teams still can't be separated, then those with the highest number of goals scored will take precedence, with head-to-head results in league fixtures next on the list. The fifth step in determining league position is wins - priority being given to the club(s) who register most over the course of a season.

Beyond that, things begin to get a little complicated. Stage six in the rules for classification comes in the form of away goals, which is why Exeter - whose opening-day win came on the road - sit above Bolton, who began their schedule on home turf.

Let's throw a 'What if?' into the equation. What if both Bolton and Exeter had been at home - or away, for that matter? That's where steps seven, eight and, should such a case present itself at the end of a season, emergency measures take hold.

Steps seven and eight relate to a penalty points system, based entirely on 'Fair Play' and the number of cards received throughout the domestic season.

To begin with, club(s) with the lowest total number of penalty points (outlined below) would rank highest, with those receiving the least amount of 12-point penalties - red card offences which usually merit a minimum three-match suspension - coming out on top should tallies remain level.

EFL Penalty Points

4 Points
- Any cautionable offence.

10 Points
- Denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball;
- Denying a goal of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender's goal by an offence punishable by a free-kick;
- Receiving a second caution in the same match.

12 Points
- Serious foul play;
- Spitting at an opponent or any other person;
- Violent conduct;
- Using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.

Then what?

If teams still cannot be separated after the above eight-step system has been applied, then alphabetical order would come into use whilst the season is active.

In such case that all criteria remain level at the end of a campaign, when promotion, relegation and Play-Off qualification is on the line, then all clubs concerned will be required to partake in a deciding match or matches under arrangements determined by the EFL to establish an overall winner - with extra-time and penalties utilised, if required.

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
1 Portsmouth 19 42
2 Bolton Wanderers 18 39
3 Oxford United 18 36
4 Stevenage 20 36
5 Peterborough United 19 35
View Full Standings >>


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