Joe Morrell: A masterclass in midfield play on debut from on loan Bristol City man

There was plenty for us Imps to take away following the win against Accrington at the weekend; a fresh new approach the brought us a host of expected goals for a start.

‘XG’ is one of the new stats that seems to do the rounds on podcasts and the like. It stands for ‘expected goals’ and is a numerical replication of how many goals we would be expected to score, given the chances we had, where they were on the field they were and that sort of thing.

For instance, Jack Payne’s long-range efforts would be relatively low ‘XG’ as one doesn’t usually see players banging them in from 25-yards. The more chances you have in the box the higher the XG. Rather unsurprisingly, our XG this weekend as high as all but one of our games after the 6-2 win at Port Vale.

Only the 2-0 home win against Oldham brought a comparable XG rating from last year’s home games after October, statistical proof that we were much more attacking and vibrant against Accrington.

I gave Michael O’Connor my man of the match; Steve Thompson did the same on the radio and I seem to recall Jack Payne getting in from the sponsors. Both players had a good game but, having had a chance to peruse the Wyscout stats for the match, there is a strong case for someone else to have been gifted the honour.

I’ve been told by some Bristol Cuty fans that Joe Morrell could have been in line for a start there this season and that he’ unlucky to have been sent out on loan. That might just be our good luck though because his number from the weekend’s fixture are really impressive.

Morrell sat in front of the back four alongside Michael O’Connor, looking to add some guile and forward passing to the Imps’ side. With the likes of Jorge Grant and Jack Payne up ahead, Morrell and O’Connor had to turn in good performances. Now we have Payne to link the forwards and the midfield, service from deep has never been as crucial.

I thought Mickey got everywhere this weekend and, given his recent injury struggle, that made me pick him for Man of the Match. Someone around me on the way back down Sincil Bank did suggest Morrell was their top player and that stats back up that claim.

His passing accuracy was excellent, right across the spectrum. Danny said post match that Joe has a lovely weight of pass, he can judge the power and precision of a pass superbly well. Not only is that true, but he’s unnervingly accurate, or at least he was this weekend.

His passing accuracy was 83.3%, a genuinely impressive figure that would be lauded at any level of the game. People often say that it’s easy to rack up good passing accuracy knocking it backwards and sideways, but that wasn’t the case here.

13 of the passes Morrell made were played forward, 77.8% of which were accurate. When playing into the final third he made 10 passes, nine of which went where they were intended. That’s 90% accuracy, a tremendous number. Whilst it is only one fixture, his distribution was incredibly effective.

My preconception was that he’d be the ball player, O’Connor the ball winner. That’s not to say one can’t do the other, but I envisaged us having a ‘defensive’ midfielder and an ‘offensive’ one. Maybe I’m trying to make it too complicated because Morrell had some great numbers in terms of his ball winning as well.

He made 16 ball recoveries. Now, I wasn’t sure what that entailed so I watched a few videos of his recoveries and it’s things like winning balls played forward by the opposition just as much as it is tackles. 16 is a good number, he was clearly alert to danger and eager to get into the right positions to win the ball.

Finally, he won 75% of his defensive duels, providing adequate cover alongside Mickey at the back.

“Well, I’m a midfield player who likes to get forward,” he told me in an interview with the club programme over the summer.

“I’m not the biggest but I like to get on the ball and create chances. I can play further forward and come from deep as well. I like to dictate the tempo of the game and I look forward to showing what I can do at Sincil Bank.”

He managed to make a cracking start this weekend; it was a really impressive debut from Morrell. He got about the park well and was often a pass behind the shot assists, much as Alex Woodyard used to be back in the day. I did say before the game we needed an ‘Alex Woodyard’ figure, a slick passer who could help bridge the gao in the middle of the park.

On this showing, we’ve got just that, with bells on.