Taking the long view on short corners
Many Swindon fans loathe them as much as substituting Alan Connell but short corners deserve their place in Town’s armoury, says Alex Cooke.
We should blame Shaun Taylor. From the 1992/93 season onwards, when that slab of Devonian muscle piled in 13 goals, mostly off his Neanderthal brow, Swindon fans have expected – no demanded – that Town should score from corners.
It looked so simple back then: Bodin, Taylor, goal! So why do the team now bother with all these mimsy, complicated, wasteful short corners?
The truth is that we hark back because we only remember the corners that went in, not the hundreds that were too deep, too high, hit the first man or dribbled out for a throw-in. The reality is that short corners as much part of a corner taking as Shaun Taylor and his smashed headers, and we need to embrace them for six good reasons.
1. Swindon aren’t very effective at corners
Pre-Gillingham it had taken Paolo Di Canio’s team 265 corners to score just 6 goals in League Two – that means a remarkable 2.3% of Town corners result in goals. Or to put it another way, just 9% of our league goals this season have come from flag kicks.
So far the six corners converted in the league have been against Southend (a), Dagenham (h) and two each against Rotherham (h) and Torquay (h). Five have come from direct balls lifted into the box, only one (against Southend) was from a short corner. So 16 % of Swindon’s goals from corners have come from short corners, but that is only part of the story…
2. No one is very good at corners
Look at Opta’s stats from the Premier League last season: Blackpool were top scorers from corners with 12 goals – 6.5% of their goal total. At the bottom of the table came Wigan with just 2 goals in 38 games from corners (1.2%). Or to put it another way the Lactics scored from a corner every 28 and a half hours. Which makes Swindon’s goal from a corner every 11 and 1/4 hours seem at least slightly better. If hammering corners into the box worked, we’d surely see a far better return than this.
3. Defences now have the upper hand at corners
The vast majority of corners, long or short, don’t end with a shot on goal, let alone a goal. Data from the 2010 FIFA World Cup proves that even at the very highest level just getting a shot away after a corner is rare. There were 145 goals scored in the 2010 tournament and of the 627 corner kicks taken, with just 271 reached an attaching player (43%). Of those, a lowly nine goals were scored. That’s a ratio of one goal scored for every 70 corners taken or 1.44%.
There a have been many reasons proposed for the growing ineffectiveness of corners over the years: ‘keepers are taller and fouls more easily drawn, defences are bulkier and better organised, and side at all levels have become willing to pull the entire team back to mark up. The move to mix zonal – and man-marking has also helped – making defending proactive, rather than just reactive. Gone are the pointless ‘men on the post’ to be replaced by aggressive, zonally positioned players, such as the way Chelsea use Didier Drogba, who attack the ball as it enters the box without worrying about having to react to someone else’s run.
4. Swindon aren’t a big team
Town do have some tall players but not enough of them, especially compared to other sides in League Two. Only Aden Flint, Oliver Risser and Jon Smith are tall enough to loom over others but they aren’t physically imposing or aggressive to fill the Shaun Taylor role. So when Swindon swing the ball in they are looking for the heads of just one or two players, when sides such as Southend and Macclesfield have seven or eight players well over six-foot.
It isn’t just in the basement league in which teams have given up hammering the ball into the area in hope, Michael Cox of Zonal Marking.net estimates that Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona take around 70% of their corners short.
5. Swindon’s delivery of ‘long’ corners isn’t very good either
Without height or power on their side, Town have to rely on the accuracy of their delivery – and you only need to see some of Swindon’s direct freekicks to realise they don’t have that.
In-swinging corners – reported as the most effective of all by Ken Bray in How To Score – demand precise delivery. In his book, Bray highlights that at the most statistically effective in-swingers need to arc no more than 2.3 metres away from the goal-line before they bend back in enter the six-yard box. This ensures that the ball is far enough away from the ‘keeper to prevent them claiming it easily but close enough to the goal to make sure near-post flick-ons and carry a real threat.
The problem is that when Town attempt to deliver such a ball it is easily cut out, just as it was against Plymouth when Simon Walton, their Machiavellian number 8, positioned himself on the near-post edge of the six-yard box. From here it was easy for him to attack the ball before it could reach the on-rushing Town players and clear the in-swinging corners of Ronan Murray and Raffa De Vita.
6. Short corners make things unpredictable
Corners are clearly tricky to convert into goals – the evidence is clear – so the need is for something different, and that is precisely what short-corners provide. They stop the opposition relying on the same tactics, the same positioning and the same scouting reports.
Swindon excel in the variety of their corners, and a look at the 11 corners Swindon took in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final reveals how unpredictable they can be.
The team used six markedly different methods to deliver the ten corners from the left in the match: there were short corners played to the advancing full-back to cross or put back to the taker to chip over, deep crosses for a man moving out to head back and driven near-post balls for a trio to rush onto. For each Lee Holmes varied the length of delivery, height and even the speed, chipping some, driving others.
While none resulted in a goal, the variety and subtlety was impressive. Outwardly Swindon set-up each one almost identically; a man on the edge of the six-yard-box, three on the edge of the area looking to run in, another man wide, supporting the corner taker and one other hovering on the far side of the 18-yard box. Only for one corner were Town set up differently with Joe Devera rush out of the box from a deeper position to connect with Holmes’ out-swinger.
However, Town’s variety forced Chesterfield to change their marking slightly: each time they placed a defender to close down the wide player, cutting off the short corner, Town played it long. When that man was pulled back to help mark the trio on the edge of the box, Swindon looked short. Only the most blinkered Town fan could accuse them of not being drilled on corners. Accuracy was more of an issue though…
Whatever the fans’ opinion on the use of short corners, it is the variety that they give which allows any corner to work – short or long. Like the spin bowler who occasionally delivers one that doesn’t turn, short corners make the more obvious, more direct deliveries dangerous.
Short corners draw markers out of the box while longer crosses drive defenders back leaving space for the short corner; it’s set piece tug of way, pulling the opposition this way then that. So whatever the County Ground crowd feel about them, long or driven corners need short corners just as much as Shaun Tayor’s headers needed Paul Bodin’s delivery.