As you know, I find stats fascinating.
I love the numbers behind football, and I believe the game is about far more than simply scoring goals in 90 minutes. You can be unlucky in one game, have a goal disallowed for offside when it was onside, or concede from a blatant foul, but if you do the right things time and again, you will eventually come out on top. It’s almost the opposite of Einstein’s saying, isn’t it? If you lose a game you should have won, then you can do the same thing again and again and eventually, you can expect a different outcome. I didn’t panic this weekend, because seven days before our ‘clueless’ team (not my words, those of social media consensus) failed to break down Ipswich, we thrashed Cambridge 5-1 in style.
It made me wonder, do the numbers tell a different story to that of common perception? Were we as bad as some on social media suggest against the Tractor Boys, or was judgement clouded? It’s similar to the Rotherham game; the perception is we were absolutely hammered and deserved nothing, but the reality is up until 75 minutes there was only one shot on target difference between the teams. Because the last 15 minutes were all Rotherham, we perceived the whole game to have been one-sided. Was the popular perception of Ipswich the same? Because we laboured in the last 15 minutes, did some come away wondering why we’re so lame in front of goal? Did the queues at halftime, the poor service at food vendors or heavy-handed stewards contribute to some coming away with a negative perception of the game?
I have decided to grab some stats (from Wyscout) and put them here for discussion. I’m not trying to find an outcome that suits my narrative, I’m writing this introduction without looking at the stats, I’ll do them as I go along and if they don’t fit my perception of the game, so be it. I just offer them here for discussion and debate, nothing else.
Generally, I think the consensus was our passing was a bit off, we lost the ball too often and struggled to play the ball into good forward areas. I know Michael disagrees, he was impressed with our second-half performance and felt we had done everything we could to win the game, except work the keeper. Was our passing on point?
Indeed, our passing wasn’t as concise as Ipswich; we made 505 passes, 405 complete with 80.2% accuracy. Ipswich played fewer (431/372) with 86.31%. However, this season, we have passed worse; Rotherham, Wycombe and Gillingham all saw a lower percentage. Of those passes, most came between players in the back five – 32 between Montsma and Poole, 24 between Griffiths and Eyoma. The most links between attacking players came when Adelakun came on; him and Poole exchanged 17 passes, with Bramall and Scully swapping 14.
It is correct our long passes did not hit the mark; we attempted 52, with just 21 coming off. That’s 36%, compared to Ipswich’s 40/22 at 55%. However, the insistence Montsma kept hitting wayward crossfield balls is not right; he only hit two from deep to Bramall all game. I think it’s just more noticeable as it didn’t come off. In terms of smart passes (a creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition’s defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack), we attempted six. Only two came off; both Cohen Bramall. You might be surprised to see this recurring theme, but Bramall’s numbers from Saturday are impressive.
In terms of comparing to Ipswich, we played more forward passes (167 to 147) and more passes to the final third (71 compared to 54), but fewer smart passes (six to 11) and all less accurate.
Conclusion: Our passing was definitely off this weekend; it wasn’t woeful, not by any stretch, but we didn’t create as much as we might have liked.
Attacking incorporated such a wide range of stats, and I felt I’d just take a scattergun approach to attack, using xG, shots, crosses and other metrics to build up the overall picture.
Believe it or not, we had more shots than Ipswich, nine with two on target, compared to their six with two on target. That’s more than we managed against Rotherham, Bradford, Wycombe and Fleetwood, and the fewest we have conceded to anyone this season. Does that mean we were defensively better? Maybe, we’ll come on to that, but it wasn’t the worst attacking performance of the campaign. That doesn’t include Regan Poole’s offside attempt by the way, so our only two on target came from Fiorini on 60 minutes, and Adelkaun on 86. In a poor first half we only managed three off-target efforts, and two of those came in the 16th-minute move including Maguire and Fiorini.
I’ve looked at our positional attacks, and that is interesting. We had 11 from the left and seven from the centre and the right. Of those attacks, all seven from the right failed to deliver any xG, effectively meaning we were weak in that area. Remember, that doesn’t mean it was the right-winger’s fault, it means it was an area of the pitch we struggled to build attacks from. I do think we lack the penetration there, and had we chipped in with some xG from that area as well, we’d have looked a more potent force. In terms of xG, we didn’t create enough; it was 0.41 to 0.58, suggesting that a 0-0 would have been the fairer result, especially if you were to add in Poole’s effort and take out Bonne’s. Fine margins.
Onto crosses, and here’s where I think it gets interesting. I’m told by some that we don’t get the right balls into the box, but we delivered 20 crosses on Saturday. That’s the most we’ve delivered all season, and is the third-highest of any in games we’ve played (Rotherham and Cambridge delivered more). The issue was not the delivery, but the success rate; only two found a target. One was on 65 minutes when Bramall nutmegged his marker and found Hopper, who couldn’t get a shot away, and the other came six minutes into injury time, when Adelakun’s delivery was nodded down to nobody by Scully. The other 18 found nobody, but they weren’t all bad crosses, not at all. I’ve watched all of them back and here’s a great stat: Bramall was responsible for seven of them, one or two super knocks. Just before half time Adelkaun fed him, he whipped into the edge of the six-yard area and we didn’t convert. The corner was fed to Scully who delivered an equally as wicked ball into the area, which was cleared.
Also, for those who say we were restricted to pot shots from the edge of the area, you’re right and wrong in equal measure. Our average shot distance was 21.96 metres, compared to 17.05 for Ipswich. However, that’s only marginally higher than the season average of 18.84, and even closer to the average shot distance against us, 19.29. Actually, on average, we get closer to goal than our opponents this season.
Conclusion: The numbers suggest that actually, we weren’t as bad in attack as people think. We certainly weren’t clueless, Ipswich defended very well, and our presence in the area was the issue. We played more passes into the area than our opponents, and got balls into the box time and again. The problem is not construction, it is turning passes and balls into chances on goal.
This really isn’t a metric that had a lot of bearing on the game, but it does throw up some interesting numbers which I wanted to discuss. I might be wrong here, but there seems to be a feeling that Cohen Bramall is an attacking defender, but can struggle in defensive situations. Through the game, we contested 45 defensive duels, with a 68.8% success rate. Cohen contested 11 of those, with a 73% success rate. That’s the highest by some way, with Bridcutt (seven and 71%) next, followed by Fiorini, Poole and Montsma on five.
What I also found interesting was the aerial duels contested. I’ve checked this stat not only on Wyscout but also on Whoscored to be safe. TJ Eyoma, ‘beaten’ by Bonne for the goal, contested 14 aerial duels and won 57%. His fellow centre back, Lewis Montsma, didn’t win a single aerial duel, not in attack or defence. I’m happy to be corrected if someone finds the clip, but two sites show that number. After Eyoma, who won the next most? Cohen Bramall, contesting four with 75% success rate. Bridcutt, not the tallest man on the pitch, is third, with Hopper fourth, contesting four and winning one.
I found the interceptions quite interesting too. I think this needs pairing with losses; we lost the ball 116 times, through misplaced passes etc; Fiorini topped that with 15, then Poole, Bramall and Montsma came next on 13. Ipswich lost is 93 times, so there’s not a huge amount there. However, Ipswich made 79 interceptions (Burgess on 17, Donacien on 11), and 35 clearances (same two players on top again). That’s 114 defensive actions. We made 23 interceptions (Bramall top again with 5), and just 11 clearances (Bramall top, again, with four), or 34 defensive actions. Now, how bad were we, that we made 80 fewer defensive actions than our opponents? What does that tell you about their approach in the second half? It was what I think I’ve heard termed ‘heavy metal’, defend for their lives. It is laughable to hear Bonne tell local media that it could have been more when they conceded so much possession and defensive duty in the second half. Also, just a note, but we only committed three fouls throughout the whole game, compared to Ipswich’s 14.
Conclusion: The visitors did far more defending than us, which they did well, but it also contributed to the frustration of the second half.
I think the numbers tell a story many can agree with on some level or at least part of it. The Imps were asked to break down a stoic Ipswich side in the second half, and couldn’t. However, the numbers show Ipswich did have to defend, which they did well, but we weren’t clueless – we got the ball into key areas but lacked the quality, or maybe the presence to turn one of those 20 crosses into a goal. Here’s something I know you’ll enjoy: when we won 6-2 at Port Vale, we only delivered 15 crosses into the area, and that was seen as a masterclass of creativity. The difference really is having the presence to create a goal from those dead-ball situations, in my opinion. When you can’t pass through a team like we did against Cambridge, we have to be able to batter our way through, whether it is with the pace of last season, or the brawn of the Cowley era. Right now, with N’Lundulu coming back slowly and the players we missed out on in the summer, we don’t quite have that. However, we’re not the terrible team some make out, and whilst it will be a tough watch at times, we are still doing the right things, the right way.