Why defenders and not strikers should be Swindon’s targets in the transfer window

Bernt V. Heiseldal looks at the promotion chasers in League One and makes a statistical defence of the Town defence.

A week ago, I came across an article in the British Esquire on why defenders don’t win the FIFA Ballon D’Or. As we know, Christiano Ronaldo won it this time which means that still only four defenders or goalkeepers have been voted as the best player in the world since the award started in 1956.

The article also mentions the book “The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong” by Chris Anderson and David Sally who have analysed a decade of Premier League matches and found that on average keeping a clean sheet gives you almost 2.5 points per match, but on average scoring a goal only gives you one point.

Of course, the team needs to score goals to win a match, but it is much more important to not concede a goal if the team wants to win the match.

As an engineer, I find numbers interesting, so I dug into Swindon’s matches since 2000 and included the 92/93 and 93/94 seasons to see if the same trend also applied for our team.

The table below shows how many clean sheets the team has managed during the season and how many points on average this gives them and in how many matches the team has scored a goal and how many points on average this provides. If the team wins 1-0, this result will be valid for both criteria, but a 0-1 loss will not be used in the calculation.
2014.01.18 Importance of the cleansheet
Apart from the fun-fact that Swindon tend to score in 36 matches, it is very clear that keeping a clean sheet is very valuable in all but the 2001-02 season. That season, Town only managed to win eight of the 14 matches when not conceding, compared to the 03-04 season when they won 13 out of 14 matches.

Halfway through this season, Swindon have managed to keep the door shut six times; whereas the top teams have done it more than 10 times (Wolves lead with 12 while Brentford and Preston are both on 11). These are also the teams including Walsall and Leyton Orient who have one or less conceded goals in average per match.

Scoring lots of goals doesn’t really matter as both Swindon and Coventry (would have been in 5th place without the 10 points deduction) have scored more on average than Wolves, Preston and Peterborough.

The year that stands out is the 11-12 season in which Wes Foderingham had a brilliant season. It is notable is that there were a lot of changes of who played in the back four, but still only conceded an average of 0.7 goals per game. I would say this was a result of a very good squad and that the players knew the formation and didn’t suffer from confusion when there were changes.

Last season was also a good one and it should have resulted in a higher position than the 6th place. The great goal difference is due to big wins in the first half of the season. From March (enter Kevin MacDonald), the team had a goal difference of 16-14 and 15 points from the last 12 matches (3 clean sheets).

Swindon tends to score lots of goal; i.e. more than the teams higher up the league table, but can also concede more goals than the teams below them. Typically for lots of these seasons is a great striker who scores more than 20 goals, such as Sam Parkin (02-05), Simon Cox (07-09), Billy Paynter (09-10) and Charlie Austin (09-11), but there is almost no hope if the team does not have a 20+ goal striker. The only exception is the 11-12 season where joint top scorers were Paul Benson and Alan Connell with 11 goals each, but then again; with 26 clean sheets, who needs a great striker? Last season, James Collins was the top scorer with 15 goals, but the team managed 19 clean sheets.

Looking at this season, it looks very much like the 09-10 season, but the team are losing too many matches when they score goals. It’s entertaining, but it doesn’t bring too much hope for a promotion push.

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