This piece will draw upon the significance of travel and atmosphere in forming a valid advantage when hosting a league match, in comparison to being away. In essence, does data signify that home teams win more than away teams on a weekly basis. And, if not, is the importance of home and away sides overplayed in predicting the outcome of a game.
The two prominent factors affecting home and away games are travel and atmosphere. Being away from home, the away team has to travel X amount of miles on a coach to the ground. Whilst this mileage varies week in week out depending on the opponent, it is still different to simply driving to the ground for a home game, rather than a long journey. Whilst copious EFL teams now travel to long distance away fixtures at least a day before, the journey in itself, alongside the transfer of luggage and equipment etc makes it a laborious task for staff and coaches. At home, the equipment is already in place; players can arrive on the day with everything ready for the match.
The other component is atmosphere. Obviously, when away from home, the travelling fans are heavily outnumbered and the home side can feed off of their home support. Except this has a few variables. The size of the club determines the size of the support. The distance determines how many fans are likely to travel to the game as, the closer the game is, the more fans are likely to go. The size of the ground has an impact on capacity and attendance. As does form, if a team is in good from and doing well in the league, fans are more inclined to go to greater lengths to see their team play. Conversely, if they haven't won away in a few months and are near the bottom of the league, then there is likely to be a less favourable away following.
Going back to club size, this somewhat falls into the geography umbrella. To use an example, Bradford are one of the biggest teams in League Two, in terms of club history, the size of their ground, and the size of their support. Thus, they typically have a huge away following for every away game , no matter where it is. Bradford is a relatively big city with a population of around half a million people. Their closest neighbours, Leeds, also boast a big away following. But there isn't another big football team in Bradford, therefore, the majority of people in Bradford support Bradford. And because of the amount of people living there, this equates to a larger fan base.
At the other end of the spectrum, a team like Sutton United, who reside in South-West London, have to compete with a whole host of London teams close-by, all of which are in higher leagues and with bigger fanbases. This results in smaller attendances, both home and away. The London borough of Sutton's population is around two fifths of Bradford's. Moreover, Sutton is competing for fans with clubs like Chelsea, Fulham, Crystal Palace and even AFC Wimbledon, who are also in League Two. This leads to Sutton Untied having a smaller fanbase than Bradford and means that their number of away fans at matches differ greatly.
When this comes down to home and away support and its relevance, a smaller away support is likely to have a lesser impact on the players on the pitch compared to a big away following because of atmosphere. Although this does not always ring true, some teams can have a lot of numbers in the away end, but do not generate a good atmosphere. Sometimes, a small away following can still generate a good atmosphere. It is all relative and down to what team is playing who, and how many people are in the ground. Bradford played Sutton at Valley Parade this past Saturday and Sutton only took 177. This led some to question Sutton's small following, but the point outlined above suggests a reason why. When the reverse fixture was played in November, Bradford took 755 fans on what was a 460-mile round trip. This attests the discussion above.
Going back to the main body of discussion, on the supposed importance of being at home, lets look at some data to see if this does testify. On Easter Monday in the EFL, in which there were 36 games, there were only six games in which the away side won, in comparison to 15 matches where the home sides won. On Good Friday, with the same number of games, 14 away teams were victorious. Only Rotherham and Sheffield United won at home in the Championship; and 13 home teams won overall. These two samples suggest that it is a variable that changes game-to-game depending on the teams playing each other. That perhaps, instead of the location, it is the teams form and performance that dictates the result much more heavily than who is at home or away. Furthermore, if top of the league played bottom of the league away, the top side are heavily favoured to win that game even though they are away from home, and the bottom side at home can't rely on the fact that they are at home to get a result. The manager has to come up with tactics and a playstyle to stifle the opposition's threat.
However, narrowing it down to League Two and looking at the home and away tables across the season, there can be somewhat of a potential correlation found. Salford and Northampton have the joint best away record with 34 points. However, Gillingham have managed 34 points at home this season and are only 9th in the home table. Leyton Orient top the home table with 48 points from 21 games, the same amount of games as Salford, who have 14 less points away. This indicates that more points have been picked up by teams at home this season, because of the difference in total points at the top of the respective tables. While this can possibly lead to a notion that being at home does provide a degree of a competitive advantage, there are still several other aforementioned factors that are additive to just being at home or away from home.
Looking at League One and the Championship home and away tables, there is a similar association. Plymouth top the home league table on 52 points from 20 games, and Ipswich top the away table with 37 points from 20 games. Burnley, unsurprisingly, top both tables in the Championship, but have 51 points at home and 39 away.
All three EFL leagues corroborate that more points are picked up by teams when at home compared to away, implying that home field advantage does yield a partial precedence. However, there are numerous factors that have to been taken account of when jumping to conclusions, including form, atmosphere, travel distance, club size, tactics etc which impact the outcome of every result.