Home discomfort brings early-season worry for managers

A win anywhere is craved but managers especially like to win at home

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Managers from Arsène Wenger, the longest-serving in England’s professional game, to Darren Kelly, one of the newest, are all agreed: home form is vital to success.

“You need to be strong at home if you want to win the championship,” said Wenger at the weekend. “We need to win our home games because this is our fortress,” said Kelly, Oldham Athletic’s manager.

It is a familiar refrain. “We have got to win our home games,” said Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew on Friday, “we need to win more than half of our home games.”

Like many things in football, it is easy to say, harder to do. Wenger was speaking before Arsenal drew 0-0 at the Emirates with Liverpool on Monday night.

Having lost at home to West Ham on the opening weekend, they have one point from six in north London. Kelly, three months into the job, was speaking after Athletic were held at Boundary Park by Shrewsbury.

Pardew’s Palace won on Saturday, against Villa, but had previously lost at Selhurst Park to Arsenal.

A win anywhere is craved but managers especially like to win at home. Given the obvious emotional advantages, home wins feel like the bare minimum with away wins a bonus, plus most fans (and some directors) only watch home games.

But in the Premier League home wins are proving hard to come by this season. Of the 30 matches played so far only six have ended with home supporters celebrating. In a dozen (40 per cent) the visitors have departed with three points and the other 12 have been drawn.

It is, admittedly, a very small sample size. Last season, across the full 380 matches, home teams won 45.3 per cent and away teams 30.3 per cent with 24.4 per cent drawn. Which suggests the main change is that more matches are being drawn, though nothing like in the Championship where 48 per cent of this season’s 47 matches have been stalemates. Since that probably reflects just how tight the Championship is likely to be this season even the first three Premier League rounds may after all be indicative of the season to follow.

There have been some long-term tactical changes that have led to teams being more adventurous away from home. Three points for a win came in 1981, that made it worth gambling to win away – indeed, for title-chasers it made it imperative. West Bromwich Albion have had the misfortune of facing Manchester City, then Chelsea, in their opening home games, with both teams intent on winning.

The back-pass law arrived in 1992 and that made it harder for teams to kill games and waste time, forcing away teams to be more ambitious.

And now the influx of TV cash has become so huge even teams of once-modest means can buy high-quality players.

Home wins are not critical. Last season Palace achieved their best Premier League finish, 10th, despite winning just six home games out of 19. But Pardew clearly feels Palace have been throwing away achievable home points. This season he is not alone.