LONDON (Reuters) - A study has shown that away teams in the Premier League have been major beneficiaries of the lack of crowds this season, confirming a trend that started to appear at the outset of matches being played behind closed doors.
With up to 10,000 fans set to return to English top flight fixtures for the final two games of the season, visiting sides might find their luck has run out as home advantage returns.
The data study was conducted by Nielsen's Gracenote, which has analysed and compared the 288 games with fans before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-20 and the 345 matches with no attendance this campaign.
It's shown that away sides have scored more goals, won more games and been on the end of more favourable refereeing decisions without vociferous home supporters there to intimidate them or the match officials.
Last season, home teams won 14.6% more matches than away teams in games with a crowd.
This term, away teams have won 4.4% more than home sides when no spectators have been present, with their win percentage sky-rocketing from 30.2% of last year's 288 games with crowds to 40.9% this campaign without fans present.
Moreover, it appears match officials' decision making has changed without fan pressure, with away sides given on average 0.6 free-kicks per game more than home sides, whereas last season that number was reversed.
In general, the number of yellow cards has also dropped from 3.6 to just over three per game.
However, away sides have significantly reduced their number of bookings from 1.97 to 1.5 per 90 minutes without crowds - with home teams now awarded more yellow cards than visitors in another reversal from last season.
"In the 345 matches without crowds this season, away teams in the Premier League have actually won 15 more matches than their opponents playing in their home stadium," Gracenote's Head of Sports Analysis Simon Gleave said.
"It is clear that home advantage in the Premier League has declined significantly or perhaps even disappeared without crowds."
Reuters contacted the Premier League for comment about the study's findings and asked if there are any plans in place to ensure unconscious bias does not return to decision making along with supporters.
(Reporting by Joseph Walker; Editing by Christian Radnedge)