After the first six matches of the Appleton era, some fans could be forgiven for wondering if we’re ever going to score goals on a regular basis again.
A spell of sustained pressure against AFC Wimbledon didn’t bring us the goals we needed to be safe going into the final minutes and a punt into the box led to us bringing home one point instead of the three. Over the full 90 minutes, it would perhaps be fair to say we ended up with what we deserved.
That’s not been the case in some of the manager’s matches. We should have come away with something from the Portsmouth game, as well as perhaps bringing a point away from Blackpool as well. Still, with one win in six league matches, the pressure is slowly ramping up. I don’t think for one second the manager is under threat, not at all, but it is interesting to see how things have changed on the field since the beginning of the season.
In a couple of chats with players, there was an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, but that might not have been the whole picture. After all, we’d disappointed at Wycombe and Doncaster in two of the last manager’s final matches in charge, which might have hinted at the problems coming over the horizon.
The problems seemingly being chance creation and goals, right? Having watched Michael Appleton’s Lincoln, I’m struggling to see a huge difference between them and the side that brushed Southend away like a pesky fly at the beginning of the season. Has much changed?
The best way to find out (in my opinion, not everyone’s) is through the magic of stats. Are we creating less or passing differently? How does our xG stack up against our goals scored? Has one manager been lucky and the other unlucky? Guess what? You’re about to find out.
I’ve taken the first seven League One matches and the first six of Michael Appleton’s reign and looked at several stats; passes and accuracy, shots and on target, lateral (sideways) passes, long passes, xG and forward passes. I’ve then worked out an average per game to see if anything seems to have changed significantly.
xG and chances
Let’s start by looking at shots, both on and off target, as well as xG and actual goals. xG, as I’ve explained before, is worked out by the stats guys rating the quality of chances. In the first six matches, we had a total expected goals of 9.55 or 1.36 per game. In actual fact, we scored 13 goals, 1.85 per game. That means we scored more than the chances we created should have brought us.
Maybe the Southend result was the one that skews those numbers somewhat, but teams that outperform their xG are usually in for a fall. It happened with Plymouth Argyle in 2017/18, but they mounted a promotion challenge. The following season their luck fell apart and they got what their xG predicted; relegation.
In the last six games, our xG has totalled 5.94, or 0.99 per game. It means we’re creating less meaningful chances per match than we were, but only to the tune of around one every three games. Our goals return in this period has been four, meaning we’re now underperforming on our xG. Had we actually scored two more goals in the matches we were expected to (Portsmouth and Wimbledon) we’d be three points better off. I know it’s a case of ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ but it suggests to me that although there is work to be done, we have been at opposite ends of the luck scale during these two periods.
Whilst that is xG, there’s no doubt about the tale of the shot data. In our first seven matches, we averaged 12.8 shots per game, with 4.5 on target. That’s data skewed slightly by MK Dons where we laid siege to their goal (27 shots, 8 on target) but it’s a decent enough return and a ‘hit ratio’ of 35%.
In the last six matches, we’ve managed 58 shots on goal, 12 of which have been on target. That’s 9.6 per game, with 2 on target, a return of 20%. The profligacy in front of goal is obvious; we’re creating marginally fewer chances (as proven by the xG) but when we are creating them we’re not hitting the target as often. If (and it’s a big if) we’d managed 35% on target in those matches it would have perhaps meant an extra goal or two, as proven by the xG.
The picture here is very clear; we’ve underperformed on our xG because of our own wastefulness in front of goal. In terms of chances we’re creating fewer, but if we took MK Dons out of the data then we had 63 shots at goal in the six opening fixtures; in terms of actually creating chances there isn’t a huge difference. The problem is putting them away.
Next Page – Passes and a campaign for identity