An xG Article – Jack Payne, Jake Hesketh and Michael Bostwick

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I know xG is divisive but I have been asked recently two questions around the stat, so I thought I’d spend some of my precious time putting together some numbers for you.

Ahead of this article, an explanation of what ‘xG’ is courtesy of the Opta website – Expected goals (xG) measures the quality of a shot based on several variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance. Adding up a player or team’s expected goals can give us an indication of how many goals a player or team should have scored on average, given the shots they have taken.

I’ve gone into this without prejudice, but I’ve been asked to provide details for the following two statements. The first: Lincoln concede less xG with Michael Bostwick in the team than when he’s out. Seems obvious enough, the point here is that we expect to concede fewer goals when a terrifying man is at the centre of our defence than when he leaves Jason Shackell and Cian Bolger doing the dirty work.

The second point I was asked to either prove or disprove was this: We’re more creative with Jack Payne in the side. In other words, we have higher xG when he plays than when he does not.

I know Jack Mulhall is someone who criticises these stats, so is Pete Summers, so I will lay down the caveat before I start. Some games are more open than others for reasons which are abnormal; the weather (Accrington), bad teams (Bolton and Southend), us being woeful (Oxford at home). These would be expected to skew the numbers I suppose, but overall the two players have played in some of these games and not others.

All stats come from Wyscout, as of 3pm this afternoon.

Courtesy of Graham Burrell

Let us start with Jack Payne because the numbers here do give us an indication of performance. Of our 34 matches, Jack has started 18, come on as a sub in five and not played in 11. I was asked to prove that with him in the side were are more effective, but sadly I cannot. In the 11 games he has missed we have an xG of 1.41, contrasting with 1.14 when he starts. For a layman, the game sin which he doesn’t play see us create better chances.

With Jack starting, we score 1.06 goals per game against 1.55 when he doesn’t start. The caveat here is that Jack played during the rather difficult period post-DC and prior to Michael coming in, but overall the numbers seem to back up the argument that he should currently be warming the bench.

There have only been two occasions where our team xG has exceeded 1.5 with Jack starting since MA took over, that being the draw at Wimbledon and 2-0 victory against Sunderland. It’s interesting to note that Jack’s last three starts have been Gillingham away (woeful), then Sunderland which we won 2-0 and Wimbledon where we should have won and he scored. Has he been hard done by, despite the figures? Possibly so.

I decided to contrast those with the number ten rival Jack has battled with, Jake Hesketh. I expected the numbers to back up Jack Payne’s inclusion and to a degree it does. With Jake in the side our xG is 1.18, with him out of the side (predominately the first few weeks of the season) it is 1.23, However, with Jake in the side, we score 1.43 times per game, against 1.14 whilst he is out of the side.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

The numbers do suggest that, contrary to my belief, Jake Hesketh is stronger than Jack Payne in terms of affecting us scoring goals this season. The xG might not be better, but we appear to be more clinical as a strike force with Jake in the side.

On to Bozzy, because these results are a little surprising. The obvious expected outcome here is we concede fewer chances with the behemoth starting than we do when he is absent, right? It’s not strictly the case, although the numbers are very similar. When Bozzy starts, we conceded 1.18 xG, when he doesn’t start, 1.13. There isn’t a huge difference in the actual chances opponents get against us.

The big difference is in the goals we conceded. In 15 matches Bozzy has started, we’ve let in 17 goals, 1.13 per game. That’s about in line with the xG, but remarkably when he doesn’t play that changes. In the 17 matches he’s missed, we’ve conceded 23 goals, 1.35 per game. As expected, we do concede more when he doesn’t play.

That’s not the surprising outcomes though. As part of the data I collected, I also got a snapshot of goals for and xG when Bozzy plays and that is truly eye-catching. With Michael Bostwick in the side, our xG is 1.22 and we score 1.47 goals per game. Without him, our xG is 1.08 and we score 0.76 goals per game.

This really surprised me, because it hints at him being as integral to us going forward as anything. He’s missed 17 matches for us, including blanks against Oxford, Peterborough, Shrewsbury, Portsmouth, Gillingham, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Rotherham and MK Dons. even more surprising is that he also missed the 5-1 win against Bolton, making these figures more favourable than they should be.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

We’ve been expelling the virtues of Bozzy this week, me on the dog walk and Lewis in his article, but at no point did we suggest that he was an asset to our attacking play. Perhaps his distribution is better than his other two defenders? Well, I checked that too (obviously).

In League One this season he plays 35.65 passes per game with an 81.6% accuracy, of which 4.11 per game are to the final third. Jason Shackell plays 39.1 per game, 82.5% of which are accurate and 4.43 of which are to the final third. Cian Bolger makes 34.4 per game, 75.5% of which are accurate and 4.35 of which are to the final third, so no, there is no suggestion Bozzy is ‘better’ at passing. In fact, of the three, Jason Shackell plays the most forward passes (17.79 per game) and with the best accuracy (71.8%) of all three.

Could it just be that when Bozzy is on the field, standards are driven? Could it be his leadership, his mere presence and how he breaks up play that helps us create more chances going forward? The stats for our goals for and xG when he plays are remarkable and perhaps go some way to backing up numbers, by finding something in there that you can’t prove directly; that we’re an infinitely better side with Michael Bostwick in the team in all areas of the field.

I await this article being picked apart in the comments!





  1. Maybe the higher number of goals scored with Bostwick in the team could be due to what he does in the opposing penalty area when we have a free kick or a corner?

  2. If you asked a statistician to analyse your data and give a ‘probability’ of them being ‘statistically significant, he/she would say there is insufficient recordings over a long enough period for them to give any reliable results. Problem is the players have had periods out and in the team and those periods have experienced dramatically different results.

    So here is some more useless data that you cannot draw form conclusions from.

    There are 4 periods of the season and I have calculated the points won for that period plus the average points per game

    7 games when Cowleys were here: 12 points, 1.71/game
    3 games with no manager: 1 point, 0.33/game
    18 games when Appleton was managing Cowleys players: 23 points, 1.27/game
    7 games when Appleton has been managing mainly his own new players less Toffolo, Bruno etc: 2 points 0.29/game

    Discuss! Whatever conclusion you make will not be valid!

    However, what is certain is that over the 3 years that Bozzie has played for the Imps he has prevented and facilitated numerous goals AND terrorised at least 150 opposition players!

    • Forget percentages for heavens sake it just makes you sound good. The facts are that Michael Appleton is not the man to take us forward. Would like to meet him and explain face to face. Season ticket no more for me wrong man in wrong job

      • For heavens sake man give him a chance. What he inherited from the Cowleys wasn’t good, why do you think they grabbed the money and ran? Perhaps you haven’t noticed but they are not pulling up any trees at Huddersfield either. They were promoted to a position of incompetence and ran.
        Judge Appleton on team performances after the summer break and transfer window!

        • ,,What he inherited from the Cowleys wasn’t good”
          That’s debatable…
          Surely Walker was better than Hopper and TJJ together.
          Surely Bruno was better than ,,Zack attack” :).
          Surely Toff was better than Melbourne….. Quality was there.
          We were bit overload in midfield, sure but MA brought even more of CM’s and God knows if they are any better than the ones we already had. ..
          If January was done more competently we wouldn’t have to looking at tranmere results now…….

    • Totally right on the stats being misleading. With the Cowleys we played 7 games and three of them were against sides 16th or lower right now. There is a valid point to be made that since MA has had to ship out a lot of the top earners the Cowleys had in a completely unbalanced squad we have struggled.

  3. David Vasey I totally agree, lies lies and dammed statistics! Only a statistician can analysis an individual in a TEAM game. How can you affect a goal scoring chance from say left wing if you’re playing right midfield, how can the left full back be accountable for a goal conceded from the opposite Wing? It’s all total gooblydegoock to draw people into believing statistics!

  4. I agree with Richard Harvey. There are too many variables to make any of it valid or meaningful as a basis for team planning. None of this appears to acknowledge the fact that we are substantially a young “light” team with players who can easily get pushed off the ball or be forced into bad decision-making by mature players. We do better with Bozzie (Bolger and Eardley) because of strength and sound experience. I should also mention a general skill deficit e.g.our attacking players’ inability (unwillingness?) to hit a ball on target from outside the box.You see many goals scored like this in the Championship – to which we aspire.Our shooting is by and large dire.

    As to MA, let’s see where we end up at the season’s close.The time to start asking some serious questions is if we finish up scrabbling around just above the Drop Zone. Surely we can get a couple of wins out of Rochdale, Tranmere, Bolton or Wimbledon?

  5. I like the new football under Appleton ,Personally dislike long ball game of the brothers grim . With no one to realy replace Rheady who can goalie aim at now . The partnership of Anderson and Eardley is superb ,What a difference it made last week in stopping the rot and 2 headers nearly hit the spot well done Harry

  6. Do you know what is a good statistic? That teams playing a short corner achieve getting the ball forward than those who just take a long free kick. And that works for the lower leagues as much as the premiership and top european leagues. And there, there are enough data points to draw a meaningful conclusion. Have a listen on the Athletics zonal marking podcast of last week. It is free

  7. Stop panicking we don’t need a managerial merry go round.
    someone the other day mentioned Paul Tisdale why the hell would we want him.
    Be careful what you wish for and keep the faith

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