Goal difference

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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, or goal ratio, 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[edit]

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[edit]

England top-flight[edit]

2012, Manchester City and Manchester United[edit]

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. City and United went into their final matches of the season level on points, but with City in first-place due to a goal difference superior by +9. 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 superior goal difference. If not a win, then City just needed to match United's result at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland. United scored the only goal of their game in the 20th minute, winning 1-0. City scored two goals in injury time to come from behind and win 3–2.[2]

1989, Arsenal and Liverpool[edit]

Arsenal won the league championship on goals-scored, after finishing level on points and goal-difference with Liverpool in the 1988-89 season. Arsenal defeated Liverpool 2–0 in the final game of the season to win the championship.

England lower division titles decided on goal difference[edit]

1983–84, Second Division – ChelseaSheffield Wednesday[edit]

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

1989–90, Second Division – Leeds UnitedSheffield United[edit]

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

1981–82, Third Division – BurnleyCarlisle United[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.


  1. ^ "Sir Alex Ferguson eyes 'stupid' Manchester City result". BBC Sport. 11 May 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-15. 
  2. ^ "How Joey Barton handed Manchester City the Premier League title". The Guardian. 13 May 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-15.