As we keep seeing, the Imps have been linked with a move for Bristol Rovers striker Brandon Hanlan.
Joey Barton has mentioned our name in his press comments, which I suspect has angered Michael a little. We’re clearly being used as a tool to get a better offer for the forward, who has one year left on his current contract. That’s the Imps’ way at the minute, find a player who can leave for free at the end of the season and stick a bid in. We got Poole and Bramall that way last season, and not it seems we’d quite like to get Hanlan too.
Of course, armchair fans have sat back on loaded up Wikipedia, spotting that he scored nine in 48 last season and they’ll start the moaning. I get how people will come up with words such as ‘underwhelming’, but I’m here to convince you that if we do get him, then there is plenty to be hopeful about.
First of all, the player’s age is a big bonus. He’s only 24 right now, which means he has the chance to develop and grow. I know Gillingham liked him, they wanted more than the £150,000 they were given when he left Priestfield for the Mem last summer, but they didn’t get it. Tribunals are usually fair to the buying club (unless Dover are involved), and £150,000 wasn’t a bad fee for a player of Halan’s ilk. For us, if we were to get him, at least we’re singing someone with potential resale value.
Goals Per Ninety
For the purpose of the article, I’m going to compare Tom Hopper and Hanlan. This isn’t an attempt to disparage Tom at all – when I say we need another striker I’m not talking about an out-and-out replacement, but another option. You would hope that option has something a little different to offer, as well as taking pressure off Tom, who I think has looked fatigued at times even this early in the season. For clarity, both players appeared in 48 matches for their clubs, with Hanlan getting around 250 minutes more than Tom.
In terms of goals per ninety minutes, Tom averaged 0.26 per game last season, or one in four. Hanlan averaged one in five, but he did so in a Bristol Rovers team that didn’t create as many chances as we did. Obviously, we want a striker likely to score more than one in five, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Succesful Attacking Actions Per 90 Minutes
I remember way back when I was a kid; I was crap upfront. My Dad sent me down the Wragby pitch with a bloke called John Skepper, so he could help train me up. I’m sure he gave me loads of advice, but one bit always stayed with me – it isn’t just your job to score as a striker, but to help set others up. I was 13, and anything more complicated would have fried my brain, but it is true. If we are to bring in a striker with a goals record that doesn’t cost £2m, then he needs to have something else to add. Last season, Hops made 1.35 successful attacking actions per 90 minutes; Brandon Hanlan made 3.21. That could be the style of play, but it also shows Hanlan in a better light than some. Here’s another interesting stat – Charlie Wyke only made 1.75. In terms of contributions to the team, not goals, Hanlan did more for the Gas than Wyke did for Sunderland.
You knew it was coming, right? What sort of stats article would this be if I didn’t drop a bit of xG. Tom Hopper outperformed his xG last season – he scored 11 goals and his xG was only 9.38. Brandon Hanlan was the opposite. He should have scored more goals than he did; twice as many. His xG was 16.16, which can be viewed one of two ways. You might say ‘he should have scored more and is wasteful’, and you’d be correct to a degree. However, (and I know Pete is going to come at me for this), if you’re getting in positions to score, and xG confirms it, that’s a good thing. Teams who persistently get good xG but lose, have the tools to win. The same applies to players, and for me 16.16 shows Brandon Hanlan can find chances. To throw Charlie Wyke in there, his xG was only 24.7, so his 32 goals outperformed too.
If you don’t shoot, you won’t score. That’s surely the first rule in the Anthony Scully book of being a striker, because he shoots all of the time. I remember seeing a player do the same once before, Simon Yeo would hit an effort from anywhere and it came good for him. Scully is a top threat for us, but we need others to up their shot rates. Tom had 46 shots last season, 1.09 per game, with an accuracy rate of 41.3%. Brandon Hanlan had 85 shots, 1.89 per 90 minutes, with 45.8% accuracy. Remember, if you don’t shoot, you won’t score and he does shoot. It is interesting to see the gol conversion figures though, a ‘goals to shots’ ratio if you like. Hanlan’s was 10.5%, showing that he maybe needs to improve his finishing to become a top League One striker. Tom’s was 23.9%, which is only marginally shy of Charlie Wyke’s 29.6%. To dispel a myth, when Tom does get chances in front of goal, he is quite lethal. The problem is a lack of chances, which isn’t always the fault of an individual.
One thing we know about Tom is he works hard outside the box, just as hard as he does in it. He put in 1.04 crosses per game last season, had 2.41 ‘xA’, or expected assists (0.06 per game), and 3.22 touches in the box. Now, for all we say about needing a new striker, what we actually need is someone who can do all that, but add more. Hanlan didn’t cross as much, 0.22 per game, which makes him more of a central striker rather than the Jack of all trades which is Tom Hopper. He did have more touches in the box, 3.45 per game, but his xA was exactly the same. However, here’s the interesting part – Hanlan made 5.26 dribbles per game, and contested 20.48 offensive duels, against Tom’s 1.3 dribbles and 8.06 duels. There’s a pattern here of a player that offers some of the same qualities as Tom, but some that are very different.
Hands up, when I first saw we’d gone in for Hanlan, I wasn’t particularly excited. I did this article perhaps as much for me as for anyone, I wanted to see how the numbers from last season stacked up. There is a caveat to all of this, his numbers come from a relegated side playing a different formation, more often than not he was part of a two-man attack. However, I’m impressed with the potential hidden away in his stats. Brandon Hanlan clearly gets in good positions and he’s capable of playing a more progressive role, getting on the ball and asking questions. How he’d fit into Michael Appleton’s side remains to be seen and it might not happen at all, but if it does, don’t be underwhelmed just yet, because there is some potential buried in the Bristol Rovers man.