If your team goes two goals up, even very early on in a game, it can be easy to think they are home and hosed and the match is as good as over. Of course, if your team is Liverpool and they are at home in the FA Cup to a non-league side, you are probably right. On the other hand, if it is Liverpool that go two goals down to a lower league side, there is every chance they will come back and win (as they did in a 2020 friendly game against Blackpool, wining 7-2).
The point is, a side’s chances of throwing away a two-goal lead vary and they will very much depend on the situation at hand. Nonetheless, it remains a valid question to ask just how often this happens. Whilst we are a little short on the perfect quantity of data to analyse, we can still draw a number of conclusions in quite general terms.
You may be interested in how often teams lose after going two goals up purely from inquisitiveness. Alternatively, you might want to know just how unlucky – or pathetic depending on your point of view – your team were if they suffered such a fate recently. Of course, there is also the chance that you could want to know just how amazing and remarkable your favourite team’s achievement was if they have just fought back from a two-goal deficit.
And last, but absolutely not least, you may be like us, and have an interest in this from a betting perspective. There are a number of excellent football betting sites that offer a range of promotions that may be relevant to this issue. Some bookies have been known to pay out on bets as soon as a side takes a two-goal lead (occasionally some even have promotions that settle as a winner with just a one-goal advantage!). Others may have some form of “bad beat” offer where you get your stake back (either as cash or more typically a free bet) should the side you backed throw away a two-goal lead.
Anyway, no matter what your interest is, let’s dig deep into the stats, crunch some numbers and see what we can uncover. Should you count your winnings at two goals up? Is it worth cashing out “just in case”? Can you forget about that long weekend acca if one of your picks slips to a two-goal disadvantage? Let’s find out…
Does a Two-Goal Lead Mean the Game Is Won?
Some traditional wisdom would certainly contradict such a notion. In fact, a 2-0 lead is often called the “worst lead”, a notion so widespread that, believe it or not, it has its own Wiki entry! We’re not sure what school of maths anyone advocating this theory is from but we’re quite happy to state, categorically, that 1-0 is a worse lead!
The argument is that at 2-0 down a side can easily become complacent and this allows the other side back into the match. 2-1 is then worse than 1-0 because the losing side has confidence and momentum in their favour and can, in theory at least, easily go on to make the game 2-2 and then 2-3.
There may be the smallest grain of logic in such an argument but there are a lot of “ifs”, “buts” and football between 2-0 and 2-3. This football cliché may have somehow caught hold but we think you’d struggle to find a single manager, footballer or supporter who would swap a 2-0 lead for a 1-0 advantage.
Sensational Comebacks from 2-0 Leads
Leaving aside the slightly strange notion that it is worse to be two goals ahead than one goal ahead, just about all football fans know that a game is certainly not over at 2-0. If you have followed the beautiful game for any period of time, you will know that all too often it can be the not-that-beautiful-and-rather-cruel-game too. Watching your team chuck away a two-goal lead hurts and here are just a selection of the best comebacks (or worst concessions) when at least two and sometimes even three goals were not enough:
- Milan 3-3 Liverpool – Liverpool’s famous Miracle of Istanbul saw them recover from 3-0 at half time to draw 3-3 and then win the 2005 Champions League final on penalties.
- Germany 4-4 Sweden – Never write off the Germans? Never write off the Swedes more like. Especially when they have Zlatan! In 2012 Sweden came from 4-0 down after 55 minutes to draw 4-4 in an unbelievable WC qualifier in Berlin.
- Reading 5-7 Arsenal – 2012 was a good year for the comeback! Reading led 4-0 after just 37 minutes in this FA Cup tie but Arsenal hit back to draw 4-4 before winning 7-5 in extra time!
- Belgium 3-2 Japan – At the 2018 World Cup a major shock looked on as Belgium trailed Japan 2-0 with just 21 minutes to go. Roberto Martinez’s man fought back to 2-2 before a 94th minute winner completed the comeback.
- West Germany 3-2 Hungary – The Miracle of Bern is perhaps the most amazing comeback of the lot because it occurred in a World Cup final. The West Germans trailed by two goals after just eight minutes against one of the greatest sides in history. A two-goal comeback in 82 minutes is not that astounding on the face of it but remember, the Mighty Magyars had dispatched of their opponents 8-3 en route to the final!
Results such as these five, and the many, many more sensational comebacks we have not mentioned, prove that a game is far from won at 3-0 or even 4-0, let alone when there is a “mere” two-goal cushion. But how often does a side really manage to fight back from two down?
What Percentage of Games See a Side Lose When Two Up?
Much as we can highlight tens if not hundreds of sensational games that defy belief and comebacks worthy of being deemed miracles, that comes from a sample of hundreds of thousands of games. The reality is that overturning a two-goal deficit is exceptionally rare. In fact, in around a third of games, probably 30% to 40% (stats and precise figures vary according to what leagues and time periods are considered), neither side will even score two goals.
We do not have precise figures but with around a further 15% of matches ending either 2-1 or 1-2, it is plausible that in the majority of matches there will never even be a two-goal lead for a side to try to overcome. We will look specifically at the first 25 completed seasons of the Premier League and we will see that the number (of games without a two-goal advantage for either side) is actually much higher. This is perhaps partly because the average goals per game in the Premier League has gone from around 2.6 in the early years to more like 2.8 now.
We should also point out, though it is hopefully self-evident, that there is a difference between a side failing to win when two goals up and a side actually losing when two in front. The two are closely linked but each question will deliver a different answer. What you are interested in may depend on which “two up” betting offer you are interested in, or just how bad your team was at the weekend. Either way, let us look at some cold, hard numbers.
Sky Sports 2-0 Lead “Myth Buster” Research
Rather helpfully Sky Sports did a lot of the hard work for us. They looked at the aforementioned theory about 2-0 being the worst lead in a “Myth Buster” piece in 2017. Their research was based on the English Premier League and all the games that had taken place between its inception in August 1992 right up to the end of the 2016-17 campaign. Some of the key findings of that research can be seen below.
|Premier League games where a side had a two-goal lead (up to end 2016-17)||2,766|
|Team maintains lead and wins game||2,481|
|Win percentage with two-goal lead||89.6%|
|Team draws game||212|
|Team loses game||73|
Very much busting the myth that 2-0 is an inferior lead to 1-0 (seriously, how did this concept ever gain any credence?!), are the stats for single-goal leads:
|Premier League games where a side had a one-goal lead (up to end 2016-17)||5,721|
|Team maintains lead and wins game||2,987|
|Win percentage with one-goal lead||52.2%|
|Team draws game||1,747|
|Team loses game||987|
This second batch of stats is not strictly of relevance to the question at hand but as there are some offers that concern a single-goal advantage it is worth bearing in mind. Moreover, it should be of particular use to those who like betting in-play, as it shows that leads are far from impregnable. Now, for the same reason that one-goal stats are of relevance, let us look at the even less common scenario of what happens when a side establishes a massive three-goal cushion.
|Premier League games where a side had a three-goal lead (up to end 2016-17)||1,119|
|Team maintains lead and wins game||1,099|
|Win percentage with three-goal lead||98.2%|
|Team draws game||16|
|Team loses game||4|
Conclusion: Teams Very Rarely Lose When Two Goals Ahead
Despite a two-goal lead having a reputation as a dangerous score (to the side in front), it should come as no surprise to any serious football fan that it is far more dangerous to the side that is two goals down! Teams that are two goals in front will win around 90% of the time in such a scenario, whilst teams two behind will win less than 3% of the time. We know which camp we would rather be in!
To add a further nuance to the answer, we should look at how often a team establishes a two-goal lead. This is of particular importance for some of the offers based on such a scenario, as in some cases the promotion only becomes relevant when either side goes two ahead.
The stats used above are based on the first 25 years of the Premier League. In the first season of the new competition, there were 22 teams and so 462 games were played in total. This stayed the same until the 1995-96 campaign when the league dropped to 20 teams and so 380 matches were played in total. This means that in total, the stats for two-goal (and one- and three-goal) leads were based on:
- 3 x 462 games +
- 22 x 380 games
- Total Games – 9,746
Of those almost 10,000 top flight games of the modern era, as we said, a side only ever took a two goal lead on 2,766 occasions. That means that clubs only had the opportunity to overturn a two-goal deficit around 28% of the time.
As said, from that relatively small number of chances, the losing team was able to mount an impressive comeback just 73 times. So, in almost 10,000 games, a team managed to turn a two-goal advantage into zero points, just 0.7% of the time. Even when we look at how often a team fails to convert a two-goal lead into three points (so including games drawn from two in front), we can see that this has happened only 285 times from the 9,746 logged contests (less than 3% of the time).
The fact these comebacks occur so rarely perhaps explains why football betting sites are able to offer these seemingly very generous promotions: history shows that they are not actually giving all that much away.