New Chief Executive Chris Anderson has referenced in several interviews since his overall that he is using some form of analytics to ascertain whether the team is playing well or poorly, or rather, whether it’s been lucky or unlucky. In a recent interview, he had this to say: “”Analytics is helpful, it doesn’t drive our decisions but we do look at the underlying performance of the team and the underlying performances of the players in order to figure out if the league table is accurate or if it is lying.”

In light of our collapse over the second half of the season, I found this quote enlightening as to his decision-making process in regards to sacking Tony Mowbray or not. The visceral feeling of our performances since beating Gillingham 4-1 at the Ricoh Arena is that they have been far from good enough and that barring the odd game, we’ve gotten what we deserved and Tony Mowbray appears unable to find a solution.

What I’m attempting here in this article is to take a step back and look at whether the statistics can prove whether we’ve deserved to fall away so badly, which should in turn affect whether the calls for Tony Mowbray’s sacking are justifiable.

The Overall Performance

Overall this season, we have been the side who have taken the second-highest number of shots, Peterborough having taken the most. Defensively, it’s a different story with only seven teams having conceded more shots than we have. However, if you combine the subtract the number of shots we’ve conceded from the number we’ve taken, we actually have the second-best shot difference in the whole division, Burton are first.

Shots are a good measure of how a team is performing overall, although how many shots you take in an individual game can be down to the quality of opponent and when goals are scored, over the course of a season it’s a good indicator of whether you’ve been consistently able to create chances and restrict them at the other end.

However, on a shot counts for very little if it’s simply a hopeful effort taken when you’ve ran out of ideas compared to one that’s been fashioned from springing a striker into the six yard box. Looking at the percentage of shots we take or concede that are actually on target, 39.3% of the shots we take are on target (6th worst in the division) and 39.5% of the shots we concede are on target (10th best in the division). Although we take a lot of shots, quite a lot of them aren’t of a great quality and our defence is fairly average compared to the rest of the division.

More important that the quality of chance is your ability to actually convert them into goals. 27.8% of the shots on target we have our converted into goals, which is the 7th worst in the division with the likes of Oldham, Colchester and Crewe all registering similar figures. It’s a different story at the other end where only 25.7% of opponent’s shots on target are going in, the third best in the division which justifies Tony Mowbray’s decision to stick by Reice Charles-Cook this season.

In summary, our attack is pretty wasteful, our defence is fairly average and we have one of the division’s best goalkeepers. We should maybe consider ourselves unfortunate not to be challenging for the play-offs but our inability to create better quality chances and to actually take them has been our downfall.

Were We Lucky In The First Half of the Season?

There is an argument that we perhaps overperformed in the first-half of the season. I certainly remember quite a few games where we didn’t play particularly well but won games thanks to Adam Armstrong or Jacob Murphy producing something unbelievable at the other end. However, the results raised expectations and it’s relevant to ask now whether we were justified in doing so.

Up to and including the Gillingham game, in terms of shots on target, we were only out-shot by more than one effort three times in the first-half of the season and we lost three games. However, we only out-shot our opponents by more than one shot on target eight times and ended up winning 11 games.

Perhaps we did benefit from a bit of luck in the first 18 games of the season but there were only three games where we took less than ten shots overall. We got that luck because we were taking so many shots ourselves and we were more clinical than we had been overall, 32.7% of our shots on target were being converted, compared to 27.8% overall. We were genuinely one of the best teams in the division and deserved to be around the top of the table.

Are We Underperforming Now?

Of greater interest is how far our performances have dipped and whether it’s been down to not quite getting the rub of the green or just simply being rubbish.

It’s been eight times in 22 games since we played Gillingham at the Ricoh that we’ve had more than one shot on target than the opposition. Already, we can surmise that the overall performance of the team has declined since the Gillingham game. Yet, it’s not to the extent that our results our showing.

We’ve only being out-shot by more than one shot on target six times over the past 22 games and lost ten times. The Fleetwood and Barnsley games were our worst performances in terms of the balance of shots on target over the past 22 games where we had four fewer shots on target than our opponents, but in general we’ve not been massively outplayed by anyone since the Gillingham game.

Areas For Concern

While the results of the 22 games have been worse than the actual performances would suggest, there are valid reasons why we should be concerned by the degree to which performances have dropped since the Gillingham game.

Defensively, our performance has actually improved as the season has progressed. The shots we’re allowing per game has decreased to 10.5 compared to 11.4 before with a roughly similar proportion falling on target. There has been an increase in the proportion of shots on target going in, 27.2% compared to 23.8% before but it would still rank as the fifth best in the league.

The dip has been led by a drop in our attacking performance since the Gillingham game. We’re taking 12.9 shots per game, compared to 14.7 before, which negates the defensive improvement. The quality of chance created has fallen from 41.5% before to 36.3% since. Worst of all, the ability to actually take chances has dropped over 10% from 32.7% before to 22.3% since.

What Is The Value At Looking At The Analytics?

I believe that that this exercise proves what many of us have suspected, that the loss of form of the likes of Jacob Murphy, Adam Armstrong and James Maddison has been more detrimental than what has happened at the back. However, what you make from these statistics vis-a-vis the decision to keep or sack Tony Mowbray is up to your interpretation.

Is a manager responsible for players not taking chances? In individual games, you would say that he isn’t but when it becomes a longer-term trend, then you have to question both their methods in training and team selection decisions. So do we believe that if Tony Mowbray has more clinical forwards next season, we’re going to achieve something or his methods will drag them down?

Analytics are helpful in understanding what has happened but they can only prove or disprove theories, not tell you what to do. In retrospect, Tony Mowbray should have looked to bolster the attack in January rather than bring in the array of experienced players who could only make bit-part contributions. It did though make some sense to bring in experience to help a young squad in a promotion push but it’s proven since to have been the wrong decision.

As you can tell from the quote earlier in the article, Chris Anderson has made clear that he doesn’t see analytics as the be all and end all that some are keen to make out. You might be able to bring in a player proven to create high quality chances or be clinical in front of goal but there is no accounting for how they’re qualities are going to blend in with the rest of the squad.

What this exercise has done is made me slightly more relaxed about the nature of this decline. We haven’t become a downright terrible team, just one that has struggled in front of goal. My own feeling is that if we can avoid sacking another manager, that is the most preferable course of action.

Sacking another manager will lead to another re-boot, as always happen when new managers come in. If we can learn from the mistakes of this season, it’s perhaps just one more year in this division. If we replace Tony Mowbray, it could well be one more year of building before we’re actually looking to win promotion.

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2 thoughts on “Finding Sense In The Stats

  1. “Worst of all, the ability to actually take chances has dropped over 10% from 32.7% before to 22.3% since.”

    Not such a rosy picture. A fall from 32.7% to 22.3% is in fact a drop of over 30% !!! Almost a third (or ten percentage points). It really is bad news !

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    • Yeah, I think the school of thought on this it that it’s preferrable in the long run to take more shots than the opposition, regardless of the accuracy, than to be more clinical and consistently have to withstain more shots. It does depend on what you see as being a long-term trend, being wasteful in 5-10 games may just be bad luck, but the longer it goes on, you’ve eventually got to accept that something’s not right with the training/recruitment/tactics. If this continues with a different set of strikers next season, it’s less forgivable but perhaps we can Mowbray the benefit of the doubt for now.

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