The Battle of the Nines

Credit Graham Burrell

I’ve heard it said a million times already this season; we needed a number nine and we haven’t got one.

We have, we’ve got two. One is Tom Hopper, injured and often referred to as a false nine. The other is Dan N’Lundulu, who is either a world-beater or not good enough, depending on whether you watched Burton or Morecambe. This weekend, it’ll be Dan N’Lundulu who starts, but what does he do differently, if anything to Tom? I keep hearing (and saying), Tom is a false nine, playing to our approach, and if another player comes in he does the same things, but is that the case? The train of thought here is that Dan’s stats should be similar to Tom’s, as he is playing the same role, and perception is the style of play that dictates the numbers, rather than the style of player. Has there been a fundamental difference in Dan N’Lundulu’s stats and Tom’s numbers? Guess what? You’re about to find out.

Please note: all stats are per 90 minutes. Tom has played 808 minutes, Dan has played for 343. All stats courtesy of Wyscout.


Credit Graham Burrell

Wait, what? Starting an article on nines with passing stats? Well, yeah, actually. You see, Tom is often found constructing attacks, not finishing them, and I wondered if his numbers reflected that, and is Dan’s said the same. The expectancy would be for Tom to have more per 90, but in fact, Dan plays more. He’s played 1.06 per 90 minutes, Tom is on 14.59. In terms of accuracy, Dan is on 81.4%, whilst Tom is 74.81%. However, Tom plays more forward passes per 90 (2.78 against 1.84) and does so more accurately (44% against 42.86%). The difference is negligible though; there’s very little in it.


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We’re drilling down now, not just talking about passing, but attacking passes and chance creation. These numbers should again be very similar, both players are thought to be creators as much as providers. In truth, neither have impressed in this field. Tom has one ‘second assist’, a pass before an assist, which came against Cambridge, and he has a ‘third assist’ (a pass before a pass that leads to an assist) against Bradford City, a goal he also scored. Dan doesn’t have any as yet. Neither player has assists either.

Both average fewer than one pass into the penalty area per 90 (Tom 0.89 against Dan 0.26), and both have low readings for passes to the final third too (1.78 for Tom, 1.57 for Dan). It seems the perception of a false nine is not entirely accurate, as neither have, as yet, made any big impressions in terms of creating chances.


Aerial Duels

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There is a perception Dan is a big man and good in the air, and of course, we know Tom likes to get back and defend. That’s evident here; Tom contests 8.13 aerial duels per game, with a 56% success rate. That’s better than Dan, who has contested 2.36 with a 44.44% success rate. Those numbers could be down to the opposition though; remember Tom has played against Wycombe and Gillingham, two teams who like to have the ball in the air. Dan’s significant minutes have come against Burton, Man Utd U21s and Morecambe, with fewer balls into the sky. I’d also say that an aerial duel for a Lincoln City attacker is more likely to be a defensive one, rather than attacking, as we rarely take a long option when building an attack. Tom does have one stat that betters Dan here; he has scored a headed goal, against Bradford City in the Papa John’s Trophy.



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You might argue that there are only two numbers that matter for a striker, chances and goals. Well, Tom has more goals, two to be precise. We know of his Bradford strike, but he’s also netted in the Carabao Cup against Shrewsbury.

This is the big stat for me; people criticise Tom for not being the out-and-out striker that some fans think we need, but surely if Dan is simply playing the same role, then these numbers should be similar. In reality, they’re quite different. For instance, Tom completes one successful attacking action per 90 minutes, whilst dan is on 2.1. Tom’s xG per 90 is 0.11, which equates to around a goal every ten matches. Dan’s is 0.34, meaning he should score once every three games. In fact, in 465 fewer minutes, Dan’s cumulative xG is 1.29, whilst Tom’s is 1.06.

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Dan should have scored at least once, hitting the post against Burton, spurning the chance against Morecambe and missing a sitter against Man Utd. Tom hasn’t particularly missed big chances, he just hasn’t had them to miss. It is Dan’s wastefulness, possibly due to his youth and injury, that has stopped him having a couple of goals. He averages more shots per 90 (2.1 compared to 0.67 for Tom), although he’s not as accurate (25% compared to Tom’s 50%).

The numbers go on. Dan has more than double the dribbles Tom has (2.62 to 1 per 90), and is almost as successful (60% to 66.67%). He is involved in a lot more offensive duels too, 17.58 per 90 compared to 7.91 for Tom. That’s a startling number, 10 offensive duels more, per game, than our regular number nine. Dan makes 1.31 progressive runs per game, compared to tom’s 0.56.

Finally, we come to touches in the box, which I guess is up there for a number nine when it comes to assessing their impact. Dan has 2.89 per 90, whilst Tom is on 2.45, little difference.



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I came into these numbers without prejudice; I didn’t have a point to prove, I wanted them to teach me something. I think they have; they’ve taught me Dan N’Lundulu is a different type of nine to Tom. He does some Tom Hopper things, passing, heading and the like, but there’s no doubt he seems more aggressive in attacking situations, judging by his shots and xG. I feel he needs a goal to get some confidence, and we might see him go on a bit of a run. Morecambe was not a good game for him, nor was it for anyone, but those writing him off are doing so prematurely. He might well be the nine, and he might be covering for Tom, but there are definite differences in their striking styles and when Tom is fit, Dan’s will have benefitted from a run in the team and hopefully, added a few goals to his game.