A Season In Stats: Goals: What, where, when and how

Alex Cooke looks at Swindon fired their way to the 2011/12 championship with patience, fitness and a fantastic home scoring rate.

It wasn’t the 75 goals scored that secured Swindon’s title last season; it was those that weren’t conceded. The forward line didn’t earn Paolo Di Canio’s side the championship; it was the back five. They allowed the team to win games without dominating in terms of possession, territory or chances. Because while Swindon’s defence was the best in the division both home and away, Town’s attack was actually 14th best on the road, and was only ranked first at the County Ground. But how, when and where all of those league goals were scored is not only crucial, it is also fascinating in what it tells us about the team, for now and for next season.

The received wisdom about Paolo Di Canio’s side was they won games through superior fitness but the goal statistics certainly don’t support that. For a side which works harder than any other we would expect to see late goals being rattled in: injury-time winners, late comebacks, the odd rout, and even consolation goals from a side who don’t know when they are beaten. We don’t see that in the numbers. We actually see two very different stories at home and away.

Goals Scored – As Hosts

1-15

16-30

31-45

45+

46-60

61-75

76-90

90+

3

5

8

2

10

10

10

1

6.1%

10.2%

16.3%

4.1%

20.4%

20.4%

20.4%

2.1%

At the County Ground, Swindon scored the bulk of their goals in the second half – from the 46th to 90th minutes – 63.27% of their home goals in fact with equal returns of 20.4% in each of the three normal time counting periods of 46-60, 61-75 and 76-90 minutes. In the first half, the percentage scored peaks at 16.3% and that is between the 31st to 45th minutes. This seems to indicate a side who are in control – perhaps not of possession – but certainly of themselves because they pick when to strike. Interesting the phases of injury time that bookend the game offer 4.1% and 2.1% of the goals respectively, hardly the numbers of a team who are hurling their buff-bodies against tiring teams. Partly this is due to the fact that they didn’t need too –  Town won 82.61% of their homes games and the vast majority were long over before injury time began.

Goals Scored – Away

1-15

16-30

31-45

45+

46-60

61-75

76-90

90+

2

6

5

0

5

3

4

1

7.7%

23.1%

19.2%

0%

19.2%

11.5%

15.4%

3.9%

Away from home the story is slightly different as it is from the 16th to 30th minute which yielded the most goals for Swindon – 23.1% of the away total. This slumps slightly from then until half time, and just after the restart, but peaks again from the 46th until the 60th minute at a constant 19.2%. So why were Swindon so deadly early on? Anecdotal evidence suggests that Town waited, either through opposition pressure, or managerial plan, before openly attacking their rivals. It certainly fits the stereotype that a home side sets out to impress their fans and attack for the first few minutes of a game as the away team settle in, as well as Di Canio’s own comments about keeping matches tight in the first 20 minutes.

Again the injury times in the away games offer little in the way of goals – none at the end of the first half and just 1 (3.9%) as the final whistle blew. And we know all about that one – it was at Northampton – and it is interesting that Town’s one away goal in injury time was when it was really needed, almost as if they could conjure them up to order.

Method Goal Scored

Shot

Header

Penalty Kick

Direct Free Kick

Own Goal

53

16

4

1

1

70.7%

21.3%

5.3%

1.35%

1.35%

How the goals were scored is also very telling: 70.7% came from shots, 21.3% from headers. This certainly shows how, despite Di Canio’s pre-season comments about how crosses would rain into the opposition box, Town’s inverted wingers delivered something quite different. This lack of quality of crosses being delivered and aerial power also goes some way to help prove how Swindon scored just 7 goals from corners. Clearly set pieces were a weakness all season for Swindon with just 7 goals coming indirectly from free-kicks and one directly. This will clearly be an area in which Di Canio will be looking to deliver – in terms of the quality of delivery and in those attacking the ball into the box.

Goal Originated

Open Play Left Side

Open Play Central

Open Play Right Side

Free Kick

Corner

23

13

25

7

7

30.7%

17.3%

33.3%

9.35%

9.35%

The source of the goals in open play is also interesting. While most people would expect the right flank with its combination of Matt Ritchie, Paul Caddis and Simon Ferry to be far the most creative, that isn’t true either. With 33.3% of all Town goals scored in open play originating from the right and 30.7% from the left, it is the central area which isn’t sharing the burden. The immediate reason for this is that Simon Ferry, Jon Smith and Oliver Risser all play far deeper than the wingers. So their 17.3% isn’t really a surprise as in Di Canio’s 442, their job was to anchor the side and combat counter-attacks. Again, this is an area in which Di Canio has talked about strengthening so it is highly likely both a defensive and an attacking midfielder will be added to the side over the summer.

Of course goals scored don’t really tell you about chances created, merely about what went in. A winger could be creating sublime chances for a poor striker and receive almost no ‘assists’ or a brilliant centre forward could be turning hoofs into goals, so making the winger look better, so caution has to be exercised with the data like any others. It is also why most people are turning away from ‘assists’ as a measure of anything. For this reason it makes sense to be dubious about drawing solid conclusions from the information on where on the pitch a goals was scored from.

Position Goal Scored

6 yard box

Penalty Area Right

Penalty Area Left

Penalty Spot

Out of Box

29

21

9

4

12

38.7%

28%

12%

5.3%

16%

The vast bulk of the goals come from the inside the six-yard box with 38.7% indicating that most the goals came from close range, which really isn’t a surprise. Second is the right-hand side of the penalty box but outside the six-yard box with a surprising 28%, which might be largely due to both Ritchie and Paul Benson favouring that area – it also might not be. With the left side equivalent offering just 12% it is tempting to similarly look towards Alan Connell, Luke Rooney and Raffa De Vita who often played on that side but the result could be equally spurious. Of course, Lee Holmes also played out there but as we’ve seen his left-foot crossing was usually aimed more the back post than near post.

The most interesting of the information is the amount of goals that came from long range strikes, outside the penalty box. While Swindon didn’t create much in the middle (not uncommon in most teams as the flanks are always more productive due to the greater space) they did finish from there. Risser, Smith, Ritchie and Holmes all scored from range contributing 12 goals, 16% of the Town total) from outside the box. It is testament to good technique from the players but also how many times Swindon faced deeper defences who, like England against France, dropped too deep and didn’t always offer the disciplined closing down in front of them.

The amount of chances created and the shots on and off-target are even more nuanced numbers. There seems to be little obvious pattern in either and with Di Canio’s constantly rotating line-ups the relative accuracy of each strike partnership is almost impossible to read, though overall for the season the total amount of shots on target (246) is almost identical to the total of those off target (256). In individual matches it seems that there is an overall trend for away games to produce less shots overall but more shots on-target, hinting at plenty of patience when Swindon aren’t at the County Ground but the data will need much closer study to produce definitive results.

What is clear from all of the statistics is that Swindon will need to add more goals for a League One campaign, not just from the strikers and in open play, and not just by creating more in the middle of the pitch but also by adding greater threat from free-kicks, corners and headers. All of will demand not just new strikers but also a different dimension in central midfield, and more power and height from those at the back.

3 comments

  • Great analysis. The table showing the origins of goals was most interesting for me. It further highlightes the need for a change in system to help create more goals from the centre, hence making us less predictable as many teams worked out that we scored the majority of our goals from out wide. I’d imagine Di Canio has similar, much more detailed data avalaible to him, perhaps the reasoning for his change in formation for the last three games of the season. And his comment that we need to be able to ‘hurt teams from all over’. Perhaps a change from 4-4-2 too an 4-2-3-1 will help to add another string to our bow so to speak, it allows for possesion to be kept more effectively between the two sitting midfielders and gives the ‘second striker’ greater freedom to create, which opens space and gives us more variety in our play. As seen in the Port Vale game, where Bostock opened up gaps between the defence and midfield, allowing us to create more from central positions without detracting from our dangerous widemen. For me, signing Bostock or a similar player would be imperative in transforming our philosophy, some may argue the ‘aint broke dont fix it’ attitiude, but as the stats show our attacking threat in the current 4-4-2 isnt brilliant, and stepping up into a higher league with an natural increase in quality will mean that we have to up our game and become less predictable/more versatile. The signings so far foreshadow these changes that Di Canio cited some weeks ago, with Roberts replacing Holmes in the left wing role as an ‘calculated winger’ with great technical ability, swinging in crosses to the back post as mentioned in the article. Collins is the ‘nasty striker’ required to play in this formation, whom is strong in many aspects both physically and technically, as Benson is. Paired with the signings of Miller and Navarro to help compliment Ferry in the deeper midfield role he has played this season, there is strong evidence to suggest we will be playing an more continental and flexible tactic this season akin to that of the Manchester City title winning tactic and Bayern Munich’s tactic which also involves a winger playing the Ritchie role. What effect this will have on our incredible defensive record I dont know, but as far as the stats and signings suggest a change of style is nigh, for better or worse.

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  • Pingback: Witness the fitness – Are STFC really fitter and faster under Di Canio? – The Washbag

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