Firstly, let me be very clear. I’ve rated Regan Poole from the second he arrived at the club. I’d seen him terrorise us before, and thought his arrival just one year ago was a coup of epic proportions.
It’s not been easy for him, playing a ridiculous amount of games at the tail end of last season, and earning the ire of some fans for the handball that gave Hull all three points in our automatic promotion clash with them. I know he’s had his critics on social media this season, incorrectly in my eyes, and this article is me showing not why I rated him before, but why everyone should now.
I’m basically going to give you some stats that suggest we have potentially stumbled onto the best central defender in the squad, on recent evidence. I know we’ve been playing well and it might be easier to look good in a decent side, but since converting to centre back, Regan Poole has not just been good, he’s been absolutely outstanding. Do you want proof? As of this moment, the rating you have given him across matches in 2022 is 8.37. That’s a score better than any player has accumulated in a single month since we began the rating last September. Sure, there are games to go, but it’s a solid start to the New Year.
Of course, fan perception is one thing, but actual stats are another. I’m talking real stats now, not xG that you can argue with, but aerial duels, tackles, that sort of thing. So, how does Regan Poole compare to the best defenders in our squad this season, and the best in the division? I’ve taken his numbers from his appearances at centre back, against Crewe, Cheltenham, MK Dons, Oxford, Sunderland and Cambridge, and compared them to the average stats for players in our squad, and the wider division across the season.
5.16 per game, 74.2% success
This number is remarkable for two reasons. One, he’s won a higher percentage of his duels than any other Imps player, and he’s improved significantly since coming into the centre of defence. Over the course of the season, Lewis Montsma has won 73.1% of his duels, TJ Eyoma 72.83%, Adam Jackson 72.19% and Joe Walsh 72.16%. Remember, those are full-season stats. The second reason they’re remarkable is that over the course of the full season, Poole has won 58.2% of his duels, but that’s rocketed to 74.2% since coming into the centre of defence. That’s a big rise, and certainly points to him being more effective in the middle.
How does that rank with the best central defenders in League One? Will Aimson is out in front, the Bolton man has won 92% of his duels, having played ten times. Donervon Daniels of Crewe is next, he’s played 11 matches and won 81.32%, whilst Toto Nsiala is third, with 81.25% from 12 matches. To be fair, his 5.16 per game is some way adrift of the best central defenders in the division according to Wyscout. Brendan Galloway at Plymouth has made 9.24 per game, whilst Luke Offord at Crewe has 8.52.
6.16 per game, 59.5%
Aerial duels is another area where Regan has upped his game since slotting into central defence, although you could argue that you’re expected to contest more in the middle. Tom Hopper, Adam Jackson, Joe Walsh and TJ Eyoma have contested more per 90 this season than Regan has during his spell in the middle; Tom is ahead on 8.8 per game, Adam Jackson is 8.1 and both Joe and TJ come in at 6.51 and 6.31 respectively. However, in terms of percentage won, only Adam Jackson on 62% finishes higher than Regan.
Most of the leaders of the aerial duels stats for League One are centre forwards; in fact, 18 of the top 20 in terms of aerial duels contested per game are strikers. Chey Dunkley at Sheff Weds is the top defender, he’s contested 13.19 aerial duels, but I guess much depends on whether you’ve played Wycombe or Gillingham twice. Will Boyle at Cheltenham has contested 10.52, with Michael ‘that will kill Lincoln‘ Ihiekwe managing 9.22 in 30th position on the list.
There’s a lot to defending, not just heading and tackling, granted. However, we desperately need to do the basics better, and I think in the absence of Adam Jackson, Poole is the man to do that. When Jackson is back, Michael has a big headache, but I think the capture of Brooke Norton-Cuffy suggests Michael likes what he has seen from Regan at centre back. You do too; his stats are certainly good in terms of our squad, and whilst you can see he has a way to go to match the best in the division on some fronts, his all-around game has benefited massively from the shift in field. That’s proven by your ratings, and by the simple fact he’s made the switch look effortless. We’ve pleaded poverty on plenty of occasions, going with the ‘two full-backs at centre back’ line to play down our defence, but actually, Regan Poole has looked anything but.