Stats more like it: What vices threaten to derail Wednesday’s promotion express?

Stats more like it: What vices threaten to derail Wednesday’s promotion express?

My last feature in the Stats more like it-series (here) posed the question “Promotion juggernaut with worrisome slant?” In recent weeks a problem does seem to have appeared in what at one point seemed a promotion chugging along efficiently if unspectacularly. Recent results could turn out to be just a blip, but fingers have been pointed in many different directions: Our strikers not scoring, midfield not servicing the strikers and our backline conceding too easily.

 

This edition of Stats the way, thus, takes a look at our defence, our midfield and our strikers. The numbers are, as always, supplied by Soccernet. All the over-interpretation of them, however, is all mine.


Defence

Defensively we didn’t start out too well this season: After 10 matches we were among those to have conceded most goals; at this stage we’re about average in League 1.

A truer measure of a defence’s leakiness is perhaps looking at both the number of goals conceded and saves made. On the surface, you’d think goals conceded and saves made would be about the same for every team: If you concede a lot, surely your keeper will make a lot of saves too. But in fact there’s little correlation between the two, so teams that concede a lot can have keepers saving a lot, too (incidentally, there’s a high correlation between shots and shots on target):

You also look at how many saves goalkeepers of teams have made compared to how many goals teams have conceded. The higher the share, the worse. Which makes our position interesting:

 

It is, however, not a new phenomenon with us. We’ve been among the top 3 worst sides in this statistic all season long. Our percentage, 48, might not say much at first glance, but it means we concede a goal for every 2 saves our ‘keeper makes. So 1 shot out of 3 on our ‘keeper is a goal conceded. Charlton’s percentage is 18; their miserly backline face 7 shots before conceding a goal. We would’ve conceded just 18 goals, with Charlton’s kind of defending, not 40. We’ve lost 8 league matches – 6 of them by a single goal – so conceding like we have has clearly made a difference.

Statistics can lead you astray, so it’s always worthwhile to think any insights over carefully. And indeed, when you just look at saves, some would argue it shows our defence is good at keeping down the number of chances faced:

If you combine both goals conceded and saves made, you have some sort of measure for the number of chances a team has faced:

 Saturday’s visitors Chesterfield have faced nearly twice as many chances as we have, but despite apparently not allowing many chances, we have just 1 clean sheet in our last 11 league matches to show for it. Is our ‘keeper to blame then? It’s hard to say for sure just using stats, but we can at least hint in that direction. One claim for Steven Bywater has been his ability to organise his defence and radiate the sort of calmness that spreads to a defence. Nicky Weaver, on the other hand, struggled in this department, most visibly during his slump in form last spring. Using the number from the graph above – goals conceded and saves made as a measure of chances faced – Bywater face 3.1 chances a match and Weaver 4.4 (O’Donnell 5.7). But both Bywater and Weaver concede about a goal a match each on average, meaning Weaver saves more of the shots on target (74 %) than Bywater (67 %) (and O’Donnell (62 %) too for that matter). Those percentages are all low compared to most other ‘keepers in League 1, and Charlton’s Ben Hamer, United’s Steve Simonsen and (rather unlikely) Tranmere’s Owain fon Williams all save 84 % of shots on target.

On the surface, it seems a choice between the best shot-stopper (Weaver) and the best organiser of the defence (Bywater), whereas the stats hint that Megson was right in bringing in an experienced replacement for Richard O’Donnell, regardless of how well-liked he seems to be among Wednesdayites (including myself).

Midfield

Despite our worsening form, one player who has so far escaped criticism, is the man who’s magic you know: Jose Semedo. And the stats certainly bear him out to be striking in one way: Semedo is the foul king of League One – no other player in the division has committed as many fouls as he – but he only receives a yellow card for every 10 fouls he commits. As we saw with the free kick he committed leading to Exeter’s second goal, that perhaps says a thing or two about how Semedo’s combative style of play is treated by referees: He’s committing an awful lot of free kicks that aren’t awful.

A different, but related, observation might be that part of his holding midfielder role is to break up attacks, and professional free kicks – as they have come to be known – are part of that. I alas do not have access to statistics showing tackles made in League 1, which would make it possible to delve deeper into the subject. Compare Semedo’s 58 fouls with James O’Connor’s 36 last season, and it’s another indication our team’s style of play has changed. Fouls aren’t a success to be celebrated, but they do say something about a team’s tenacity and desire. Moulding a team displaying those two qualities became Gary Megson’s ambition not long after he took over about a year ago. Now, not only is Semedo the foul king of the division; no other team have committed as many fouls as us, and only Yeovil have received more yellow cards than we have.

It’s been a favoured line of escape for opposing managers, especially those we have defeated, that we’re a big, physical side, implying we obtained our victories in some sort of illicit manner. Well, we’ve suffered more fouls than 19 teams in this division, so it seems those managers have had their sides give it out in the same manner they taken it. And there’s even less correlation between the number of fouls committed and suffered as there was between saves made and goals conceded, so it’s not automatically so that teams that foul a lot also get fouled a lot themselves.

While we’ve steeled up as a team, and added the first proper all-action holding midfielder since, perhaps, Carlton Palmer to our ranks, the attacking part of midfield has also seen wholesale change. Megson’s finest acquisition was unfortunately not ours to keep, and Ben Marshall is now busy warming the bench at Leicester.

Marshall’s departure coincided with a downturn in form for Chris Lines. Together the two have made 12 assists – 1 out of 3 assists this season. Here, perhaps, lies another reason for our current problems: Goals coming from good team-playing build-up have dried up, and but for Jermaine Johnson shooting onto the scene with some spectacular one-man show goals, we have not had much in the way of established attacking play.


Strikers

Our strikers can’t escape attention, but as a team we’re not exactly doing badly in getting our shots on target:

 The numbers in the graph above don’t tell the whole story, though. If we compare the shots on target percentage after 15 matches with the one now, only Hartlepool and Huddersfield have seen a bigger drop than us. As our strikers have had 4 of every 10 of our shots on target, clearly something isn’t going right here.

Much has been made of Chris O’Grady’s role as a link between midfield and attack rather than a 20-goals-a-season-striker. But O’Grady actually has more shots and shots on target than Madine, but only a third of the goals to show for it, despite getting more (53 %) of his shots on target than Madine (48 %). Total stats like that can be misleading, however, as in his last 8 matches, Madine has only had 2 shots. The Goal Machine is no shooting machine at the moment.

Our last 2 strikers have deviating accuracy stats that probably reflect their differing roles: Whereas the greying fox in the box Ryan Lowe gets 71 % of his shots on target, deep-lying Clinton Morrison manages just 38 %. Glancing at that statistic for the entire team reveals a few interesting things:

Chris Lines is the second-most accurate shooter of our squad, but he’s had a very poor goal return. While Madine’s accuracy isn’t the best, his goal return remains impressive. Which begs the question: Why has he had so few shots in his last 8 matches? One of Gary Megson’s pet peeves about Madine in pre-season and the first few matches was that he didn’t go for goal enough; that he played too unselfishly for a striker almost. He then sprung into a goal-scoring form even Jordan Rhodes (at the time) couldn’t match, but has Madine reverted to the player Megson was complaining about? And, more crucially to our promotion hopes, can Megson once again help make Madine a Goal Machine?

The goal return of defenders Rob Jones and Reda Johnson can be attributed to their few efforts on target, but many of them being headed efforts close to goal. It is, nonetheless, impressive.

In summation, then, it seems you can’t pin the engine coughs of the promotion express to one single factor. I do hope that the run through above has provoked some thoughts. Statistics often tend to pose more questions than answers, and if you have any queries, ideas for things to look into, knowledge of good, statistical sources, then please let me know.

Peter

Owls Alive
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive or @ploehmann


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